THE latest annual statistics for non-intentional farm related incidents in Australia reinforce why a serious culture shift in work health safety is needed if the agriculture sector is to shake its hazardous reputation.
Figures collated by AgHealth Australia revealed 58 on-farm deaths were reported in 2019*, down from 68 cases in 2018, with quad bikes and tractors again reported as the leading causes of injury.
AgriFutures Australia is funding research to enhance farm health and safety as part of its National Rural Issues Program, working alongside the Rural Safety and Health Alliance.
The 2019 report Non-intentional Farm Related Incidents in Australia highlights the total on-farm deaths, causes of injury, fatalities by age and gender, as well as the estimated economic impact of fatal injuries.
Updated bi-annually using data collated by AgHealth Australia, based at the University of Sydney, the report aims to provide comprehensive evidence to build preventative approaches for the safety and wellbeing of people in Australian agriculture.
AgriFutures Australia Business Development senior manager Jen Medway said the statistics show we still had a long way to go before agriculture could be rid of its 'dangerous industry' reputation.
"It's no secret agricultural work involves significant risks with fatalities and serious injuries continuing to occur at a rate higher than other sectors," she said.
"This is why Australia's Rural Research and Development Corporations are committed to reshaping the conversation around farm and fisheries work health and safety.
"We're taking a collaborative approach through the RDC-funded RSHA to compile the data and use an evidence-based approach to improving safety across our agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries."
RSHA executive officer Andrew Barrett said the RSHA was focused on projects to leverage leadership on health and safety, decision making with better data, as well as improving the quality of communications around health and safety to give the sector the best chance of making real impact at the farmer and fisher level.
"People are agriculture's most important asset and to save lives we need to address risks with fatal potential," he said.
"Critical risk and control is not new to producers. They are managing these all the time; when buying or selling stock, choosing varieties to sow or harvest timing.
"These are all decisions with big impact. Arguing with gravity when working at heights, conductivity when working with electricity or the speed of a rotating power-takeoff is about as effective as arguing with the weather.
"Managing health and safety risks with effective controls is good business, and the only way we are going to curb the sector's concerning safety record."
The 2019 statistics also reveal a staggering economic impact, with on-farm fatal injuries costing the sector over $113 million, on average $1.95m per incident.
What the numbers don't measure are the social costs associated with fatal events and serious injury.
"The true impact of serious safety incidences are felt much wider than the economic evaluation would suggest, but fortunately we are starting to see a trend towards an improved safety record for the sector," Ms Medway said.
"It is an uncomfortable conversation, but an important one anyone working in agriculture needs to have if we are to see a sustained reduction in the number of on-farm fatalities and injuries."
The 2019 Non-intentional Farm Related Incidents in Australia annual statistics are available via the AgriFutures Australia website.
*Fatal cases for the reporting period could increase due to a lag in data collection method.
Start the day with all the big news in agriculture. Click here to sign up to receive our daily Stock Journal