Why are farms still unsafe?

The start of School Holidays is always a good time to issue reminders of the risks associated with farms, beaches and wherever holidaymakers go. The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF), recently reinvigorated in its occupational health and safety (OHS) efforts, has released a new safety booklet – “Child Safety on Farms – A practical guide for farming parents“. However, the coverage of this guide by the ABC is a little loose.

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“the job is never done”

Every so often, there are sufficient numbers of workplace deaths and injuries that a government feels the need to act. In 2019, the Queensland government closed down its mining sector for a “safety reset”, which required every mine worker to be retrained in occupational health and safety (OHS). Recently Western Australia needed to act on deaths in its farming sector and has established an inquiry into the issues.

Farming is perhaps the hardest industry in which to affect change. It is dominated by male workers and farmers. It has next to no union presence. OHS inspectors rarely attend farms except after a severe injury or death.

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Farm safety is unique, not

Australian farmers feel they work in a unique safety culture into which work health and safety laws have intruded. This intrusion by government and bureaucrats will persist regardless of the number of work-related incidents that happen to farmers, workers and relatives and the children of farmers.

All farmers and parents advise their workers and relatives to be safe, but this applies a broader range of safety to what is considered in cities and other industries. As far as is reasonably practicable (ASFAIRP) takes up a bigger, greyer range of safety on farms.

This uniqueness and occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective were on display in a recent farm safety article in The Weekly Times, a major Australian agricultural newspaper. The article “Farm Safety Focus Urged to Avoid Tragic Consequences”*, looked at two scenarios. One involved a childhood horse racing injury and a later adult motorcycle traffic collision (Dave Lovick); the other was an adult work-related quadbike incident (Kat Gration).

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“no choice” = BS

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are increasingly applying to non-occupational situations. This “responsibility creep” may be part of the reason that public members are complaining about unfair restrictions on what they can do, on their choices, on the way they have done things for years. Many claim that they have no choice to do what they do, that the choice has been taken away from them, but there is always a choice, even if the consequences are uncomfortable.

The misrepresentation of OHS rules and obligations in the United Kingdom media led to a myth-busting program run by that country’s Health and Safety Executive. In many ways, the UK media was being mischievous by exploiting and exacerbating misunderstandings of OHS duties, but it had a significant cultural impact that lives on today. Traditionally OHS duties were easier to understand when they were contained in a workplace (or were seen to only apply to workplaces); when they jumped the fence, the social rules changed.

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Quad bikes, compliance, mandates, misdirection and rules

Last week it became illegal for a new or second-hand quad bike to be sold in Australia without a crush protection device (CPD) fitted at the point of sale. This achievement has been decades in coming and has involved bitter fighting between advocates of safety and the sellers and manufacturers of this equipment.

This blog has followed this controversy for years. Quad bike safety is a significant illustration of the political and commercial pressures that have argued for a lowered level of safety than was possible. This conflict is perhaps the most public display of a moral conflict whose resolution is at the heart of occupational health and safety (OHS). (This controversy deserves a book similar to those about glyphosate and asbestos)

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Twelve months of work-related deaths

In 2008, prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) advocate, Hilda Palmer wrote about the inadequate estimates of work-related deaths in the United Kingdom. Keeping work-related death confined to traditional categories provides a false understanding of the reality of OHS. Palmer wrote:

“Far from being complacent about the health and safety record in this country, we need to be honest and open, and examine what is really going on”.

Recently, at the 2021 Workers Memorial, a representative of the Victorian Trades Hall read out a list of those who have died at, or due to, work in the last 12 months. It was a list of 47 people. The categories have expanded to include truck incidents, asbestosis, silicosis as well as the more traditional traumatic injuries. Curiously no suicides. A transcripted list of those 47 is below.

Continue reading “Twelve months of work-related deaths”

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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