Addressing Farm Safety: Insights from SafeWork NSW Industry Roundtable

In April, A/Prof Alison Kennedy and Dr Jacquie Cotton were invited by Minister Sophie Cotsis (NSW Minister for Work Health and Safety) to attend the SafeWork NSW industry roundtable to explore ways of improving work health and safety compliance and reduce fatalities and serious injuries on farms. Despite high levels of engagement with the agriculture industry over the last 10 years SafeWork NSW acknowledged that the number of farming-related fatalities had not significantly reduced and were keen to identify requirements for more work to improve safety in the industry.

Approximately 40-50 people attended the roundtable discussion held in Griffith, including the NSW Minister for Agriculture, local Member of Parliament Helen Dalton, representatives from SafeWork NSW, NSW Department of Primary Industries, NSW Local Lands Service, Country Women’s Association, a range of industry representatives (including horticulture, cotton, dairy, transport), along with a number of farmers bringing lived experience of personal injury and fatality on farms.

The program included brief presentations and opportunities for everyone to discuss challenges and propose solutions to the challenges of farm safety—including the importance of considering physical and mental health as causes of, and outcomes of, poor safety practices on farms. The packed program included discussions on:

  • The role that all stakeholders have in making farms safer—not only farmers—and where investment in further support might be of greatest benefit.
  • Prioritising prevention of risks to health, wellbeing and safety, to avoid having to deal with the outcomes of injury.
  • Ensuring that safety messaging is appropriate to meet the needs of a diverse farming population (considering language, culture, learning styles, literacy levels, etc.)
  • Ensuring that links between safety and productivity are made clear across the supply chain (from machinery manufacturers actively marketing safe farming equipment to farmers being aware of the cost savings to having a safe workplace)
  • The need for continuing research to identify and track leading safety indicators—proactive and preventative measures that can help track how effective safety initiatives are and can highlight potential problems in safety programs—over time.
  • Removing unsafe farming practices in the depiction of agriculture in media and social media (e.g. images, language) as ‘accepted’, ‘normal’ and ‘unavoidable’.
  • Reducing the stigma associated with speaking up about safety and seeking support.
  • Ensuring that policies, procedures and safety resources don’t just exist, but also being used, understanding their use, and whether they effect change.
  • The need to address the cumulative pressures in the agriculture sector (e.g. time, climate, costs, workforce availability, supply chain) which encourage fatigue, risk taking and poor decision making.
  • The need to question the necessity of pressure driven fast-paced systems/tasks that are inherently dangerous e.g. seed cleaning, harvest, and look at different ways to achieve these tasks more safely.

A huge amount of information was collected on the day and we look forward to seeing how the National Centre for Farmer Health can be a part of addressing the challenges and creating the solutions moving forward.