A traditional farm safety campaign with tweaks

For the last few years, farm safety has been dominated by arguments over the safety of quad bikes. Squabbles continue in Australia, but that topic is largely over, and many are returning to a broader and more contemporary approach to health and safety in farming.

It looks like WorkSafe Victoria has begun to roll out its farm safety ambassadors with Catherine Velisha on the cover of a recent edition of Stock and Land newspaper and in a Youtube video. This is supported by a full article on page 3 with an additional article in a glossy supplement provided with WorkSafe’s support.

The article is a blend of promotion for Velisha’s farm management training company and media releases from WorkSafe Victoria. The occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics are new but not very different from previous statistics. Middle-aged men continue to be a feature of the fatality statistics, and 58 on-farm deaths happened in 2020, the same as the year before. Quad bikes have been a major factor in those deaths.

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WorkSafe Victoria intends to change the farm safety culture

WorkSafe Victoria has launched a new campaign about health and safety on farms. Safety and health in this sector needs constant promotion as high rates of death and serious injury persist. The latest video campaign deserves a broad audience and hopefully is pushed heavily on television in rural areas and through local newspapers (what’s left of them) as these media continue to be major influences.

Farming is one of the hardest industries in which to achieve tangible change in occupational health and safety as discussed only recently on this blog. This latest campaign is fresh and looks good but the message is confusing if, as WorkSafe Victoria claims, the aim is to affect cultural change in the agriculture sector. The video takes a narrow focus on the male farmers implying they are the major cause of injuries. (Gender is a sensitive issue in farming, even though the statistics show older male farmers continue to be at high risk of injury) There is a little bit of “blame the worker” which is contrary to most strategies for cultural change.

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Ask not what WorkSafe can do for you, but what you can do to improve safety

One of the most difficult industries in which to achieve occupational health and safety (OHS) improvements is farming, especially in areas where farming continues to be done by small family units. The safety culture of farming is unique as the workplace is embedded in community and rural culture. Some people believe that OHS regulators have given the agricultural industry an easy run for too long, as stated by Mick Debenham in a recent opinion piece in The Weekly Times (paywalled), but farmers should perhaps ask themselves why people continue to die on their farms and what they can do to change this.

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“exponential increase in mental injuries in the workplace” and other statements in a Victorian Parliament committee

Three years ago, WorkSafe Victoria indicated that it would consider prosecuting farmers for breaches of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. That possibility seems to have disappeared based on the latest Minister for Workplace Safety’s appearance at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC).

Ingrid Stitt‘s appearance centred on questions related to the 2020-21 Budget Estimates and touched on Industrial Manslaughter, gig workers, mental health, and construction and farm safety.


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Australian Safety Magazine continues to improve

The member magazine of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS), OHS Professional, continues to improve in the quality of its articles – less advertorial, more authoritative articles. The current edition, December 2020, includes two particularly good articles- one on the manufacturers’ withdrawal of quad bikes in protest and another on psychological health and safety at work. This article will discuss the quad bike article.

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The quad bike safety puzzle

According to The Weekly Times ($), the Victorian Farmers Federation has changed its stance on the fitting of operator protective devices (OPDs) to quad bikes at point of sale. Instead they want farmers to fit their own OPDs. The reason given for this change is reported as being

“… due to concerns many quad bike brands would no longer be available if manufacturers were forced to fit them.”

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Fire Flood Plague OHS

2020 is a year of continuing social change, so a book of essays that reflects on 2020 seems a little presumptuous. But just because we are in a state of social flux does not mean we must wait for stability before examining the process of change.

This December Random House Penguin will publish “Fire Flood Plague“, a collection of essays from prominent Australian writers about what Tim Flannery calls the three catastrophes:

“…the unprecedented, climate-fuelled megafires that were extinguished by damaging, climate-influenced floods. Then, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic…..”

page 69-70

There are some parallels between how people responded to these disasters and how workplace safety and health is managed. But more than that, the essays provide an insight into how others feel about what is happening, and these writers’ thoughts will reflect the thoughts of those with whom we work, with those we are obliged to manage and with those whose physical and mental welfare we are obliged to improve.

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