As farm safety week comes to an end, I have been pondering again why the agriculture, forestry and fishing fatality rate has remained unchanged over the last decade, ranging from 16.0 to 17.8 (per 100,000 workers) since 2003. This is despite substantial and significant advances being made in other areas which previously experienced high rates of workplace death. For example, mining’s rate was 12.4 in 2003 and dropped to 4.4 in 2015. Transport and warehousing also dropped from 14.6 in 2003 to 6.6 in 2015. Our work with farmers reinforces this experience of high rates. One only needs to ask a group of farmers if they know someone seriously or fatally injured from a farm accident and usually all hands in the group go up. Further questioning on how many people they have personally known, sadly often reveals two hands with 6 or 7 fingers raised, often including children deaths. In my experience, there is no other occupation that shares this high rate of fatalities at work.
In positive news, we have managed to reduce tractor roll overs—previously the highest cause of death on farm—through roll over protection (ROPS) and improved manufacturing of new tractors. More recently, we have seen the quad bike become a major cause of on-farm and recreation fatalities and replace the tractor as the likely cause of farm injury and death on farm. This too has now seen some state governments provide rebates for crush protection or contribution towards purchasing a safer alternative to the quad bike.
Any death is one too many.
Farm fatalities are a major problem all over the world regardless of whether it is a developed or developing country. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, agriculture employs over a billion people globally.
What can we do?
One country—Sweden—had a national injury prevention program running during 2009-2013 and managed to have zero fatalities in 2013. Sadly after the program ended it came back up and in 2015, seven (7) adults were killed and 3 children.
We have been using the Worksafe 15 minutes Farm safety check  in our work with farmers for years, with positive feedback on the changes they have made. It is simple, quick and gets you started. Good business relies on good people who are healthy, well and safe.
Other industries have done it – let’s make farming next.
Target Zero – zero incidents, zero deaths, zero harm.
Dr Susan Brumby
Director – The National Centre for Farmer Health
Clinical Professor, Deakin University
The National Centre for Farmer Health can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: +61 (03) 5551 8533.
You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
 Safe Work Australia. (2016). Work-related traumatic injury fatalities 2015.
 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2011). FAOSTAT-Trade. Countries by commodity. Retrieved from FOASTAT
 Lundqvist, P. (2016, 10 March, 2016). [Sweden Farm Fatalities]