Farm Accidents, Injuries and Death: Why are the rates so high?

Workplace health and safety should be at the first and foremost importance for employers no matter which industry they are involved in. However it appears that the Agricultural, Forestry and Fishing industries are falling behind, with recent research revealing almost half of all deaths on farms could be prevented by implementing simple solutions.

In this article we examine the workplace health and safety of these industries, as well as look at how injured workers can seek compensation and damages, and when the family of a deceased farm worker may be able to make a claim.

Worker deaths and injuries on farms and fishing vessels are unacceptably high, especially when compared to other industries. In 2013 there were 48 fatalities in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries. These deaths:-

  • Represent a quarter of all workplace fatalities;
  • Is equal to 15.11 fatalities per 100,000 workers;
  • Is 9 times the national rate.

Further, a study funded by the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership found between 2001 to 2014 there were 45 fatalities involving farm utes. The study noted that many of these lives could have easily been saved, as half of these people died because they weren’t wearing seatbelts or were being carried in the tray.

So why is there a lack of workplace health and safety procedures employed on farms? Why are we seeing so many farm accidents?

The study found major barriers included attitudes, perceived cost, time and inconvenience to implement changes. Farmers also needed evidence of how changing practices will improve their safety, production or income.

While this sounds horrifying to many, there is something being done to address the issue. A program is being run by the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership to improve the health and safety of workers and their families in the farming and fishing industries; aiming to reduce the rates of farm accidents, injuries and death.

While this program is a step in the right direction what options are available to workers who have already been injured? If you are an employee then you may be eligible to receive workers compensation benefits if injured at work. These benefits are paid by WorkCover Queensland and can include medical expenses and lost wages.

However this will not apply to all workers. The Agriculture sector has a high percentage of workers who are self-employed. As these workers are their own employers and not classed as an employee they are not covered by workers’ compensation. If you are a self-employed farmer then it is imperative that you take out income protection insurance to cover yourself should an injury occur and you be unable to work.

An injured employee may also be able to bring a common law damages claim against their employer if they can prove that their injury was a result of their employer’s negligence. An employer has a duty of care to their employees to ensure their safety while at work. If they breach this duty of care by failing to ensure this safety and an employee sustains a personal injury as a result then the employee may be able to bring a claim for negligence against them.

Some examples of ways in which employers can keep their employees safe includes:

  • Having a safe system of work;
  • Ensuring all equipment is in a good state of repair;
  • Providing adequate and reasonable training and instruction;
  • Requiring their employee to carry out reasonable and appropriate work duties;
  • Adequately instructing and supervising their employee in their work duties.

If, in the unfortunate event of an employee dying during the course of their employment, the dependants (including the wife, husband, de facto partner and children) of the employee are entitled to a lump sum death benefit from WorkCover Qld. In addition the dependants may also be able to bring a common law claim for damages against the employer if it can be proven that the death of the employee was caused by the negligence of the employer. In both situations a financial dependence or an expectation of financial dependence will need to be proven by the person bringing the claim.

No matter what industry you work in your employer has the duty to ensure your safety in the workplace. If they fail in this very duty then you may be able to bring a claim for negligence against them.

If your spouse, de facto partner, parent or guardian died at work then you may be entitled to a lump sum death benefit from WorkCover Qld, or in addition, you may be entitled to bring a death dependency claim against their employer for their wrongful death. In any event the health and safety of employees must be a top priority for employers, particularly those in the agricultural industry.

Programs, such as the one funded by the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership, aim to drive sustainable improvements to work health and safety outcomes within the primary industries. Research conducted by them showed strong leadership and positive attitudes from key people would a long way in creating a culture of safety in the primary industries.

Greater awareness of safety in the work environment and practices in farming and fishing industries will hopefully lead to fewer deaths and injuries in the workplace.

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