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FarmSafe spotlights the more common but less talked about on-farm risks this summer

FarmSafe spotlights the more common but less talked about on-farm risks this summer

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When it comes to farm safety, sun exposure and hydration may not seem like the major rural workplace hazards, but their consequences are no less cause for concern.  

And now FarmSafe Australia has launched a comprehensive and practical summer campaign, aimed at raising awareness about the elevated risks associated with Australian summers and empowering farming families with the knowledge and resources they need to protect themselves, their land, and their livelihoods.

FarmSafe Australia Executive Officer Stevi Howdle says much of the current campaign’s focus is on those smaller, everyday things like sun safety, and fire risk, reminding people that farm safety is not just about putting your seatbelt on or operating machinery responsibly.

“There’s a startling statistic, that farmers are 60 percent more likely to get a melanoma, which is so concerning, so this campaign is about the little everyday things we can do like putting on sunscreen, mowing close to houses and sheds, and being more aware of water hazards.”

“Working on a campaign like this is interesting, as there’s not a lot of statistics on the everyday issues associated with farming, like skin cancer, back issues from sitting in a tractor every day, vibrational injuries from post hole drivers, hearing loss from working with machinery – it’s those little issues that can be taken for granted during the farm safety conversation.” 

Summer is also harvest season, signalling increased on-farm risk, so flagging issues such as fatigue and mental wellness is also a critical component of the campaign. 

Stevi, who lives on a property in NSW, believes it’s easy to write fatigue off as just part of harvest, but fatigue is one of the main causal factors of injury and fatalities, especially during the busy seasons.

“As we head into this summer, it feels like the regular issues have been compounded by all the events we’ve endured such as drought, fire, floods  – and with another unknown season ahead, the mental wellbeing of our workers and families is extremely important.”

“Taking care of your mental wellbeing is the foundation of safe decision-making, and we want to make sure our farming community is checking in on each other, and know the signs of failing mental health. It’s a critical message at all times of year, but it seems to be highlighted more and more as we come into the summer months.” 

With many young ones home from boarding school, or visiting from afar, child safety is another important message over the holiday season.

“Children tend to be on farm more often than usual, and often friends and family who may not be familiar with your farming environment visit, so making sure that they are always made aware of the risks and actively supervised is very important,” Stevi says.

“Farms are amazing places to grow up and visit, but they’re also high-risk work sites, so we need to be mindful that we’re the adults and we’re the ones who need to set boundaries and repeat clear and consistent messaging for our kids.” 

FarmSafe Chair, Felicity Richards from Tasmania’s Tamar Valley knows all too well how quickly accidents can happen on-farm, having recently experienced her own close call.

“My children are three, five, and seven, so really in that vulnerable age, and what frightens me about statistics of child safety on farm is that the majority of incidents occur when there’s no active supervision, and it’s really easy as parents and supervisors – with the best intentions in the world – to think that physical presence equates to supervision, when we all know deep down it doesn’t.”

“Being on the phone, or just finishing a fencing job, or doing anything when you’ve got your kids with you means you can’t actively supervise them.”

Felicity reflects that her close call came whilst brushing her horse with her three-year-old.

“I had my three-year-old and five-year-old literally two or three metres away from me, and I was brushing the horse, and before I knew it my five-year-old alerted me to her sister, her face tipped down in the water trough, her little legs unable to reach the ground.”

“I genuinely couldn’t hear her, it was so silent and so fast and it really reminded me that I thought I was supervising my kids, and instead I learnt a really scary lesson – I could have put them behind the fence away from the hazard while I worked, or not brushed the horse – but I made a really bad choice that day.” 

Rather than ‘wrapping kids in cotton wool’ Stevi echoed Felicity and said that the summer campaign was about making good decisions. 

“The FarmSafe organisation consists of farmers, talking to other farmers, and we all loved growing up on farms.”

“I certainly didn’t come from a very safe farming environment, but thank goodness the generations are improving – more and more farmers risk assess and look at the situation and how they can manage it best. We all have to get our work done, we all have to watch our children, we have to manage the environment and FarmSafe understands that we all have competing priorities.” 

“You can choose the risk, but you can’t choose the consequence’ is the best safety quote I’ve heard, and we want people to think through risks to children, and how they can safely enjoy being in the farming environment, without inadvertently risking tragic consequences.”

Toolbox Talks shaping the conversation

With a range of resources to help educate and raise awareness amongst the farming community on the FarmSafe website, Felicity believed the ‘Toolbox Talks’ were particularly meaningful.

Consisting of a series of PDF documents covering a range of topics, from the safe handling of cattle to chemical use, she said the appeal – as a farmer herself – was that they come in two parts, a two to three-page practical guide and a facilitator guide.

“Whether it’s the farm manager or team leader, whoever is conducting the farm safety talk, we’ve actually given them a resource to support them talking their team through the issue – including talking through incidents they may have experienced, or case studies to learn from.”

“It’s my dream that we one day have 52 of them, and each week farm businesses concentrate on a farm safety risk with its team. We’ve done the hard work for them, they just need to sit down and have the conversation.”

Agriculture’s Top 100

Recently Rabobank signed on as a one of Agriculture’s Top 100 FarmSafe Australia ambassadors, with access to research, tools, and webinars to share with its farming community.

Felicity said she was thrilled to have Rabobank’s support leading the farm safety conversation, and that as an organisation that supports farmers across a range of regions and commodities, it was well aligned with FarmSafe.

While professional agricultural workers such as financial consultants, agronomists and veterinarians tend to be on client farms for only a few hours at a time, they are usually very aware of which farms have safety risks like poor yard infrastructure or lack of personal protective equipment. They are often put in situations where they have an opportunity to make suggestions about safety improvements.

“Part of this supporter pack is creating awareness in our corporates and getting these professionals in as ambassadors, so that if we have a veterinarian going out on farm preg testing cows in yards that are unsafe, they feel empowered to speak up – not just for the farmer and worker safety, but for their own safety.”

“Our mission is to create a united national voice for farm safety and raise greater awareness of safety issues, contributing to saving lives, preventing life-altering injuries, and building stronger, more sustainable farming communities.”

“We have invited Australian organisations across the supply chain to become key members of our Agriculture’s Top 100, and Rabobank was one of the first to sign up, for which we’re very grateful.”

“Through trusted industry ambassadors such as Rabobank we hope to change behaviours and business practices through one united voice, driving greater care for our farm owners and staff.” 

To learn more about the current FarmSafe Australia campaign, visit https://www.farmsafe.org.au/