Hazards on Australian Farms

Farming is the backbone of Australia. Providing our population with the food and textiles we need, the role that farm workers play is a vital one.

But farming is a uniquely dangerous occupation. The array of injuries sustained is vast, and risks and hazards on Australian farms can arise from:

  • Geographical isolation
  • Solitary work
  • Equipment and vehicles
  • Chemicals
  • Animals
  • Noise
  • Working outdoors
  • Dust

Farmers often pride themselves on their self-reliability and stoicism. With their isolation comes a responsibility for self-maintenance, and the time-sensitive pressures of the job influence working practices. Being far from the nearest hospital means farmers rely on themselves and their colleagues for safety and for first aid treatment.

Safety-culture in farming is complex as new technologies supersede traditional practices. Safety training can be haphazard, with risk-taking behaviour a cultural norm. This sort of behaviour is commonly passed from generation to generation which further embeds it in the daily life on the farm.

Regulatory standards are hard to embed and enforce, and farmers are more likely to accept advice from other farmers. The farming community is strong and proud and must take steps to ensure the safety of everyone on the farm.

Statistics

Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in Australia. According to Better Health farming has about 8 times the rate of fatality of the general employed population.

An average of 52 farmers were killed in work-related incidences per year for the past 20 years. Vehicles made up about 39% of major injuries, and machinery accounted for about 26%. Just over half of all work-related farming incidences involved workers over 55 years of age.

Farmsafe Australia statistics of farm injuries and fatalities in 2022.
Farmsafe Australia statistics of farm injuries and fatalities in 2022.

Equipment and Vehicles

With the advance of technology, farms are using more machinery and vehicles than ever before. This in turn leads to an increase in hazards. Equipment and vehicles account for the majority of injuries and deaths on Australian farms, with some common incidences being:

  • Crush injuries
  • Lacerations
  • Broken bones
  • Concussion
  • Eye damage
  • Internal organ damage
  • Amputation
  • Falls

Read more about machinery and vehicle safety on Australian farms here.

Chemicals

As the saying goes, the dose makes the poison. Everything is a chemical, but the dose of that chemical is what can make it dangerous.

Farm workers are often dealing with very large quantities of hazardous substances such as cleaning products, herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers, process-specific chemicals, and even water.

Exposure to some of these substances, over a short or prolonged period, can lead to:

  • Headache
  • Skin irritation including dermatitis
  • Irritation of the respiratory system
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chemical burns
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Poisoning
  • Birth defects
  • Lung, liver or kidney disorders

You can read more about farm chemical safety here.

Animals

Farm animals can pose a range of significant hazards for farm workers. Their size, strength, and unpredictability are often overlooked due to the need for speedy processing.

When working with animals, farmers are at risk of:

  • Being crushed, gored or trampled
  • Bites, lacerations, bruises
  • Broken bones
  • Internal organ damage
  • Blunt force trauma
  • Falls from riding
  • Dislocations
  • Needlestick injuries during animal vaccinations
  • Degenerative joint and muscle damage

Gaining good working knowledge of the behaviours and temperaments of the animals on the farm can help reduce the likelihood of injury. Read more here.

Noise

Big machinery brings big noise. Large numbers of livestock also bring big noise. Even strong and steady winds bring big noise.

All of this noise can permanently damage workers’ hearing. Occupational hearing loss is an often-overlooked hazard, and as such it is important to be vigilant about noise levels in each work area.

Dust

Farm workers can be exposed to dust through many different sources:

  • Weed/pest control
  • Mouldy areas
  • Dry land
  • Transporting grain and livestock
  • Harvesting
  • In the stockyard

Occupational lung diseases can occur due to exposure to some of these hazards, developing rapidly or over prolonged exposure. Some of these outcomes can result in disability or shortened life span.

Read more about the hazards of dust on Australian farms here.

Working Outdoors

Working outdoors can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Constant fresh air is a blessing, but constant exposure to the elements can be very damaging.

Sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancers, and wind can damage skin, eyes, and ears.

Extreme temperatures pose their own hazards, with heat exhaustion common in outback Australia. On the other hand, exposure to freezing temperatures brings a risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

Encourage your fellow farmers to embed safe working practices.
Encourage your fellow farmers to embed safe working practices.

Making the Farm Safer

Farms can be safe places to work, as long as care is taken to follow the appropriate regulations. Personal protective equipment should be provided to mitigate hazards across each are of the farm. Examples include:

  • Earphones or other hearing protection
  • Gloves
  • Shoe covers
  • Overalls
  • Protective suits
  • Breathing masks
  • Adequate ventilation
  • Sun protection
  • Goggles

Chemicals should be labelled, stored, used, and sign-posted according to their safety data sheets. All workers should be trained in their safe handling, storage, and exposure treatment. Training should include reviewing safety data sheets, which have emergency first aid instructions for each chemical. Maintain workplace exposure standards for certain airborne chemicals, with appropriate health monitoring.

Substituting dusty substances for liquids or granular formations and using less hazardous chemicals where possible are recommended safety procedures.

Ensuring adequate ventilation of enclosed areas can assist with dust and toxic fumes. Conversely, using vehicles and machinery with enclosed cabins can protect against exposure.

Maintaining appropriate guards in place for all machinery and vehicles, and ensure all animal enclosures are well maintained.

Never work alone with animals. Seek prompt medical attention for any injury sustained while working with animals, particularly needlestick injuries during animal vaccinations.

First Aid Training is Critical for Farm Workers

Farmsafe Australia has identified complacency as a real and persistent hazard on Australian farms. Workers can become complacent over time, and this increases the risk of injury or death.

Ensuring your first aid training is up to date is one way to combat complacency and puts you in a position of power to help those on your farm (including yourself) when an injury occurs.

Adequate first aid training can mean the difference between life and death on Australian farms.

More articles

Workplace first aid article headerWorkplace First Aid
Outdoor Activity Safety PrecautionsOutdoor Activity Safety Precautions
House Party Injuries Article HeaderCommon House Party Injuries
Essential items for a home bakery first aid kitFirst Aid Kit Items for Home Bakers
Choking baby article headerHow to Save a Choking Baby
Towel Mistake article headerTowel Mistake Could Cause Drowning
Dangerous Chemicals in House article header5 Dangerous Chemicals in Your House
Avoid Electric Shocks at Home article headerStay Safe: Avoid Electric Shocks at Home
Electrical hazards article header newElectrical Hazards
Fire safety hazards article headerFire Safety Hazards

Recently published

Cold vs heat pack article headerCold Packs vs. Heat Packs
Cold packs article headerHow and When to Use a Cold Pack
Mould article headerHousehold Mould
First Aid for Concussion article headerFirst Aid for Concussion
Non-birth parent postpartum depression article headerPostpartum Depression In The Non-Birthing Parent
Summer Safety Tips article headerSummer Safety Tips for Your Eyes
Incorrect Mental Health Crisis Intervention article headerRisks of Incorrect Mental Health Crisis Intervention
Saline eye rinse article headerSterile Saline Tubes for Rinsing Eyes
Online Gaming Injuries article headerCommon Online Gaming Injuries
Common netball injuries article headerCommon Netball Injuries