It’s the event many landowners fear most. A serious accident resulting in injury or even death on their farm.
But aside from the immediate trauma, what follows in terms of legal responsibility and obligation can often be equally traumatic and distressing.
So what should landholders do to protect themselves, and their business, when it comes to farm safety incidents?
Associate Professor Tony Lower has been working in the area of farm safety for nearly three decades and says the best defence is for farmers to have good records in place.
“If something goes wrong and you don’t have a system in place - you don’t really have a leg to stand on,” he said.
Prof Lower is an honorary associate at AgHealth Australia, a leading academic unit of the University of Sydney previously known as the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety.
Based at Dubbo, Prof Lower said protection came down to four key steps
- Identifying hazards - find out what can cause harm
- Assess the risk - understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening
- Controlling risks - eliminating or implementing the most effective control measure possible
- Reviewing control measures - ensure control measures are working as planned
Prof Lower said farmers also needed to document the steps they had taken to reduce the risk of a farm accident.
But he said this didn’t have to involve complex or elaborate systems and simple record keeping could provide effective protection.
“If we do have an incident on a property, one of the first things the authorities will look at is whether you have records of the steps you have taken to improve safety and the systems in place,” he said.
“We don’t want to burden farmers with extra work but some kind of record is essential.
“It can be as simple as the top pocket diary, where, for example, you can record what you have done to make sure all farm equipment and machinery is working correctly with guarding in place and when safety inductions have been conducted.”
There are several comprehensive farm safety software systems now available on the commercial market.
But experts say, that as a starting point, the free checklists and resources readily availabe online can be just a useful.
Here’s three very good free resources.
1. Farmsafe Induction Tool
This free tool seeks to improve the safety induction of new workers. If you are a farm owner/manager select the menu button on top left hand corner of page to develop your own farm induction. Click 'Employer Mode' and select relevant drop down boxes. View here.
2. Work health and Safety Action Plan
AgHealth Australia provides lots of free templates and guides on this page. If nothing else, check out and complete the Work Health and Safety Action Plan
3. Emergency Plan template
Regardless of efforts to lessen risk, accidents can still happen. Having an emergency plan could minimise the effects of a dangerous incident and help prove you had solid procedures in place to deal with an emergency. Find the plan here.
Farmsafe Australian Chairman and former NSW Farmers’ President, Charles Armstrong, agreed that checklists were a great first step for landowners.
He said in the unfortunate event of an accident, it was important to be able to show that the owner had been trying to work towards improving safety.
Mr Armstrong said it was impossible to make a farm absolutely safe because it operated in a natural environment.
“We can’t control a natural landscape where there are animals, rain, wind etcetera but we can try to lessen the risks of working on a farm,” he said.
A number of free checklists are available on the Farm Safe Australia website at www.farmsafe.org.au/Resources-for-Farmers
And as starting point, AgHealth Australia provides a handy template for documenting the four steps.
It can be found at www.sydney.edu.au/medicine/aghealth/farmers/index.php/