Farms are high risk workplaces in Australia. This is compounded by the ageing farm workforce, disadvantaged access to medical services, and farm workers being more likely to work alone.
In 2021, the rate of work-related fatalities for agriculture was 10.4 deaths per 100,000 workers. Farming continues to be the highest risk occupation with around eight times the rate of fatality of the general employed population. Many hospital presentations from farm injuries are under-reported and un-reported, making it challenging to accurately measure farm-related incidents.
Over the last 20 years, an average of 79 farmers were killed on farm each year, with two-thirds of cases work-related. Major agents of injury were farm vehicles (39%) and machinery (26%). Workers aged over 55 years accounted for 58% of all work-related incidents and were significantly more likely to die that younger farmers.
In 2021, 46 farm fatalities and 128 non-fatal injuries were recorded. The most common agents of fatality were tractors, quad bikes and side by sides. The most common agents of injury were quad bikes, tractors and horses. Males were over-represented with 87% fatalities; 13% were children aged under 15 years.
Living on farms creates a unique relationship between home and workplace. Multiple generations may also live together on the farm. While this can have benefits, it can also present risks to health, wellbeing and safety. Children and older farmers are at high-risk of farm fatalities and injury. Farmers can become accustomed to hazards and accept risks as part of everyday life, and stop actively looking for ways to reduce risks.
Many farm risks can be managed by following the Hierarchy of Control. For example:
- elimination – removing an old tractor (without appropriate safety features) from the farm
- substitution – using smaller sized containers or packaging to reduce heavy loads
- engineering controls – reconfiguring livestock yards to minimise physical interaction with animals
- administrative controls – limiting the number of hours worked and include regular breaks to minimise fatigue
- PPE – using correctly fitted earplugs when exposed to high noise environments
Tips for making your farm safer
- Meet with your state-representative farm safety advisor for a farm risk assessment and an employee induction toolkit
- Create safe play areas for your children
- Maintain all machinery, equipment and infrastructure with routine service and repairs
- Simplify farm systems to reduce complexity and confusion
- Develop a farm safety culture – make safety a normal part of conversations in your farming business
- Provide everyone with their own PPE and allocate a place for clean storage when not in use
- Recognise that “better beats perfect” when it comes to safety
References used for this topic
Lower T, Peachey K-L, Rolfe M. Farm-related injury deaths in Australia (2001–20). Australian Journal of Rural Health. 2022.
Safe Work Australia
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
National Farmers Federation
Reports and Publications
Better Health Channel
Farm safety – risks and hazards
15 minute farm safety check
Child safety teaching kits
Safe Farms WA
NSW Farm Safety Advisory Program
Primary Employers Tasmania
Victorian Farmers Federation