Safe Work Australia is the independent Australian government statutory agency that leads the development of policy to improve work heath and safety across Australia. Safe Work Australia regularly publishes statistics about work related fatalities and injuries.
For those involved in agribusiness (described as covering agriculture, forestry and fishing), the current statistics are sobering.
Fifty worker deaths were recorded in the agribusiness sector for 2014, second only to the transport, postal and warehousing industries, and making up over a quarter of the Australian total of 186 total worker deaths in 2014.
This is not a recent phenomenon. Working in agribusiness did not become dangerous overnight.
Reviews of historical data show that in the five year period from 2007-2008, to 2011-2012, a staggering 294 agriculture, forestry and fishing workers died from work related injuries. This means that the total number of deaths equates to 16.81 fatalities per 100,000 workers, which is seven times the national rate of 2.29.
The bad news does not stop there, with the rate for serious claims remaining 12.7% higher than for all industries, therefore resulting in a significant amount of time off work for injured workers.
Working with vehicles whether, aircraft, cars, trucks, motorcycles or quad bikes, is a clear area that requires attention. The statistics show that working with vehicles is the main cause of fatalities in agribusiness, and a significant contributor to worker injuries.
Other areas that require focus, based on the high number of fatalities caused by them, include being hit by moving objects, rollover of non-road vehicles, being hit by falling objects, being trapped between stationary and moving objects, and drowning.
Common injuries identified in the data include animal related incidents (including body stressing, commonly due to muscular stress suffered from handling sheep) and being hit by moving objects (with more than a third of these involving workers being hit by animals), closely followed by falls, trips and slips, many of which occurred due to falling over on uneven ground in the outdoor environment.
There is no doubt that there is a high level of awareness about the obligations for persons conducting a business (including the agribusiness sector) to ensure that everything is done, as far as reasonably practicable, to ensure the health and safety of workers while at work.
However, the statistics show that that there is a long way to go in the industry. The current high levels of fatalities and serious injuries cannot be sustained either on a legal or moral basis. These statistics should serve as a reminder of the dangers inherent in many tasks performed while working on the land, and should offer a motivator to do more than is currently being done in the sector to manage work health and safety.
Safe Work Australia has recognised the need for action and published their National Agriculture Activity Plan 2014-2019 with agribusiness identified as a high priority industry worthy of focus.
The statistical areas highlighted provide guidance about areas known to be of concern and require attention, but this does not mean that there can be any justification for failing to manage all known risks or hazards.
Guidance for industry is readily available through Safe Work Australia or through the state based regulators. In Queensland, the Queensland Government publication ‘Work Health and Safety Laws – Get Ready Guide for Queensland’s Rural Industry’ is a good starting point, and additional expert advice can always be sought where needed to help meet the challenges faced by industry participants.