Ground Cover Supplement : GC Supplement - Farm safety
GROUND COVER FARM SAFETY 5 Farmsafe Australia executive officer John Temperley says the group has identified three key injury issues: ¢ increasing injury rates from the use of all- terrain vehicles (ATVs), as deaths from tractor rollovers have been falling with the adoption of rollover protection; ¢ injuries stemming from the use of older, often unguarded farm machinery; and ¢ farm workshop injuries. It is difficult to get an accurate picture of the extent of farm work-related injuries and health problems. Less than 20 per cent of farm businesses in Australia have employees and therefore are covered by the workers' compensation system and its statistical database. There is no systematic process for reporting work-related injuries and health problems among self-employed farmers operating as sole traders or through partnerships. Victorian rural general practitioner Dr Greg Keogh says hospital records are inadequate, as they do not include injuries that present to GPs' surgeries -- a study in northern Victoria revealed that more than 90 per cent of farm injuries were presented to GPs or local hospitals. Even injuries presented to local hospitals are not always properly recorded. To improve the available data on farm safety and to identify safe work systems, in 1996 a group of rural research and development corporations formed the Farm Health and Safety Joint Research Venture, managed by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC). In conjunction with the AgHealth Centre, the joint venture has released a series of fact booklets on key areas of farm health and safety risk. It is also publishing a series of industry-specific kits that include tools to help farming businesses manage workplace risk and comply with regulations and guidelines. Farmsafe Australia chair Don Sutherland says that joint-venture funding has already achieved a great deal. He points to: ¢ the child safety on farms strategy -- which has not only highlighted the areas of greatest risk, but also disseminated practical information to help people make farms safe, for example, on practical and affordable types of fencing for the house yard; ¢ broad awareness of the need for regular safety audits as part of farm management; and ¢ working with the insurance industry to develop incentive schemes for farmers who attend a farm safety training course, carry out an audit, implement safety steps and achieve injury- free periods. For more information: www.farmsafe. org.au; www.rirdc.gov.au/farmhealth/ Although there is little evidence of major acute health risks associated with the use of agricultural chemicals, less is known about their long-term impacts. In the five years to 2001, 11 people died in Australia from accidental poisoning involving pesticides (including herbicides and fungicides), of whom four were farmers or farmworkers. All were over 40, and they were overwhelmingly male. In the two years to 2000, about 300 people were admitted to hospital because of pesticide poisoning where it could be established that the poisoning was accidental. Of these, half were children under five. AgHealth Centre director Lyn Fragar says the high hospitalisation rate of children reflects their exposure to relatively low-strength household pesticides, in both rural and urban settings. The fatalities, on the other hand, reflect the exposure of workers to high-strength pesticides used in farming and other industrial settings. Poisons information centres take several thousand calls a year about pesticides, though the number has been gradually falling. In the five years to 2000, there were 41 workers' compensation claims relating to plant treatment chemicals and 11 relating to animal treatment chemicals across the Australian agricultural sector. As with other causes of injuries and ill- health, this is likely to represent only a small fraction of all cases on farms, as only around 20 per cent of farm injuries and ill-health are covered by workers' compensation. The long-term health risks of pesticides (to the user and the community generally) are not identified by this data. However, governments have responded to perceived risks by increasing regulation. In NSW, for example, people who use pesticides in their job must now be trained in their handling and safe use. NEW FARM SAFETY GUIDES Seven booklets, the Facts and Figures on Farm Health and Safety series and two manuals on managing safety risks for horticulture and beef production, have been released as a result of the Farm Health and Safety Joint Research Venture. Launching the publications, the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Richard Colbeck, said death and injury rates on Australian farms were unacceptably high. "The series of booklets provide a snapshot of data on deaths and injuries across a number of rural industries," he said. "The 825 accidental deaths on farms between 1999 and 2002 represent 825 tragedies to Australian families, tragedies that were quite possibly avoidable. "In addition to the personal pain and grief these deaths and injuries cause, they represent significant losses in production to the $30 billion contribution Australian rural industries make to the economy." The Farm and Health Safety Joint Research Venture is a collaboration between the Grains Research and Development Corporation, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation Ltd, the Sugar Research and Development Corporation, the Cotton Research and Development Corporation and Dairy Australia. It is managed by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. "The farm is a unique work environment, often placing family homes alongside workplaces using heavy machinery, vehicles and other potential hazards," Senator Colbeck said. "The overlap between home and work life is an important part of the rural lifestyle, but it involves serious dangers." For details of the booklets and where to obtain them, see back page. IDENTIFYING AND ADDRESSING THE RISKS GREATEST RISKS WITH CHEMICALS MAY BE LONG-TERM Senator Richard Colbeck, right, with Tasmanian MHA Jeremy Rockliff at the launch of the safety booklets.
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