Safety on the farm is an important issue facing many Australians – especially older workers. As their bodies become less nimble, it can become more dangerous for farmers to operate machinery in the workplace.
According to a presentation at the Farmsafe Conference in Launceston, Tasmania from Noeline Monaghan and Tony Lower of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (ACAHS), farmers over 50 years of age formed 47 per cent of all accidental farm deaths between the years of 2001 and 2014.
This was 392 people over the age of 50 dying on farms out of a total of 820 fatalities in this 13 year period.
Farmsafe conference warns of driving dangers to elderly
Farm vehicles and mobile machinery were involved in the vast majority of these fatalities, which highlights the need for safety measures when these are in use. Tractors are particularly dangerous, with the presentation from Lower and Monaghan indicating that this type of vehicle was involved in 94 deaths alone in this time period. Quad bikes were involved in a further 50 deaths.
The frequency of these accidents has decreased over time, however, to the point where there were 6 deaths caused by these two types of vehicle in 2013, compared to 21 in 2001.
Looking at the farming workforce
In the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ social trends release from December 2012, it was noted that the median age for farmers in Australia was 53, while the average age was 40 in the rest of the workforce.
The Monaghan and Lower report identified ways in which older farmers tend to lose strength and certain abilities over time, which can be dangerous when working on the farm. This is an important issue to address given the median age of this profession is much higher than the national average. Senior farmers often experience less stamina and flexibility and declining eyesight and hearing,as well as decreased balance and stability. Slower reflexes were also identified in the presentation as a cause for concern in this demographic.
With this in mind, it is important to always make sure the correct safety equipment is in place to prevent these effects of old age interfering in the workplace. This means avoiding equipment that may be too heavy or move too quickly, and always wearing the correct safety gear. Equipment like tow tugs and powered vehicles can provide a stable and easy to use solution for transport tasks that older farmers must undertake.
Planning for future generations of farmers
Speaking at the conference, Mr Lower said that farmers often treat safety as an “s-word”.
“The thing we don’t refer to is safety because it is not palatable,” he is reported as saying by Stock & Land.
“In some circles there is resistance because people have been working in farming operations for 30-50 years and sometimes longer and it may be perceived [as] interfering in their business.”
The right safety planning on farms doesn’t just help those seniors who are working currently, it can help succession planning as well. Lower and Monaghan mention safe work platforms as one option for lessening risks on farms, which can provide stable access to higher areas.
“What will make a difference is what they are doing in terms of investing in the business,” Stock & Land have quoted Mr Lower as saying, in reference to buying suitable equipment. By investing in the appropriate safety products on the farm, you can create an environment that works with the ageing farming population, as well as providing a stable framework for those you plan to hand the land on to.