Farm safety facts are solemn reminder

The Safer Farms Report 2021 has been sobering reading. My state and my age group have featured strongly, and not in a good way.

FarmSafe Australia puts out this annual report on fatalities and significant injuries on farms. Overall, there is some positive news with the number of deaths on farms across the country in the first six months of 2021 down on the figure for 2020. At 20 people killed (instead of 30), though, it is still a big problem.

As a Queenslander, what has particularly given me pause to think is that nearly 60% of the farm-related injuries reported over the past 18 months were in this state. That is 126 serious accidents in Queensland within the national total of 201.

In those same 18 months, 24 people lost their lives in accidents on Queensland farms. Hitting close to home, 82% of them were men and 62% were aged over 45 years.

Statistics can provide a good opportunity to pause and think. Farms are complex and busy operations and farmers (including growers) are generally juggling a lot of tasks and responsibilities. We must be the most multi-skilled people in Australia even before you factor in the pressure and stress that goes with running your own business.

With so much going on, there is a lot that could go wrong. Going by the statistics, it goes wrong for the more experienced farmer, those aged over 50, more often than for any other group.

The FarmSafe report made this observation:

“A commonly perpetuated myth on farm is that it is the young adults, with their over confidence and lack of long-term experience, that are most at risk on farm. Yet year in and year out we find that males over the age of 50 are the most likely to be fatally injured. It seems that experience isn’t always the best indication of safe practice.”

I’ll put my hand up and admit that I’ve lost count of the times I’ve thought, “That was close,” after something happened while I was working on the farm. I know most of my colleagues would be the same with their experiences of near misses.

Sadly, virtually every family involved in farming, including the sugar industry, has a story to tell about an accident, and often it resulted in losing someone dear.

One of the things I have observed about Australia after travelling to other countries and visiting sugarcane farms is that we do attach a high value to the safety of farmers and to workers in general. Whilst we might feel that there are too many rules, if we are being honest, we do understand the importance of them and of keeping our workplaces, our farms, and our work practices safe.

The rules, guidelines and campaigns are there for a reason. If nothing else, the FarmSafe report is a reminder of why they are there, to take them seriously and to take stock of what we do and how we’re doing it every day we go to work.

After all, we don’t want our people, our family to become part of next year’s statistical review.

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