30 May 2023
This month, Safe Work Australia released the latest preliminary data on workplace fatalities in Australia. The data, compiled from national media reports, revealed a positive trend in the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries sector. The number of deaths in our sector has decreased significantly from 17 deaths Year-to-Date (YTD) as of May 11, 2022, to 4 deaths YTD in May 2023.
This decline in fatalities indicates a potential shift in farm culture, which some media sources have previously described as a "risk-taking culture." In 2021, unfortunately, the agriculture industry ranked second nationally in terms of the highest number of fatalities, with only the transport, postal, and warehousing sector recording more deaths.
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While our goal is to achieve zero fatalities, we acknowledge that the complete solution to this problem is yet to be found, with the agriculture sector historically often being perceived as lagging in implementing Work Health and Safety (WHS) policies and procedures. However, following the COVID-19 pandemic and the current labour shortage across all industries, primary industry employers are making greater efforts to retain and train their workers, with one of the key strategies to achieve this is to focus on WHS to improve workplace culture and conditions.
As part of this search for continuous improvement, Felicity Richards, the Chair of Farm Safe Australia, has expressed the organisation's intention to secure funding for a study to benchmarking farm safety culture in collaboration with Deakin University.
This type of research aims to provide a deeper understanding of farm safety and identify the cultural factors that may contribute to injuries and fatalities.
Unfortunately, our safety discussions tend to also overly prioritise personal protective equipment, such as high-visibility jackets and helmets. However, it is essential to broaden our focus and engage in a more comprehensive dialogue regarding the entire hierarchy of controls to truly embed safety practices within the agriculture sector.
By conducting this research and gaining a deeper understanding of farm safety culture, we can facilitate a broader conversation that encompasses various levels of control measures. This approach aims to address hazards and risks systematically, going beyond relying solely on the idea of personal protective equipment as the answer. Instead, it emphasises the need to implement preventive measures and prioritize safety at every level of agricultural operations with hazards removed wherever it is reasonably practical to achieve this.
At the state and local level, Primary Employers Tasmanian (PET), the employment industry peak body, has also been working with Safe Farming Tasmania and other agricultural bodies to enhance WHS practices on farms. One recent example of a successful industry and government collaboration is the joint shearing shed safety sessions held across the state.
Mr Grubb, the President of PET, in recent discussions emphasised that safety in agriculture is a shared responsibility, and PET encourages all its members to take proactive measures, such as implementing formal induction processes and providing easy access to tailored "safe operating instructions" for machinery and equipment.
The goal of these initiatives is to foster a culture where safety is deeply ingrained in every aspect of the industry. This involves identifying and implementing engineered controls, administrative controls, and safe work practices alongside personal protective equipment. By integrating these measures into the daily routines and decision-making processes of agricultural workers, we can establish a robust safety framework that safeguards their well-being and prevents injuries and fatalities on farms.
As the largest advocacy group in Tasmania and the only one that focuses exclusively on farming and the rural sector, the future of Tasmanian agriculture is our focus.
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