Research by WorkSafe New Zealand shows there is almost always a vehicle involved when someone dies as a result of a farm workplace accident.
Almost 90% of farm fatalities involve working in, and around vehicles and machinery.
Over the next three years, WorkSafe will be focusing strongly on reducing the critical risk of working in and around farm vehicles.
These are the instances where the decision by the farmer can be the difference between life or death.
“Making even a small improvement in this area will have a significant impact on reducing injuries and saving lives on farm,” says Jo Pugh, WorkSafe’s Deputy General Manager Assessments.
“As part of this focus, our inspectors will be discussing safer use of vehicles with farmers during assessments.
“They will be asking farmers about how vehicles are used on their farm and what they are doing to ensure vehicles are not a factor for them or their workers being hurt or killed.”
Through the Safer Vehicles, Safer Farms programme, WorkSafe will also be encouraging farmers to share their knowledge, expertise and ideas to help create safer ways of working with vehicles and machinery.
“Engaging farmers, to tell us what works for them, will be crucial,” says Pugh.
“Farmers will know safer ways of doing jobs, which equipment is safest in different situations, and what engineering solutions are out there, that make vehicles and machinery safer.
“In addition, we will be working with the sector on new and improved guidance, standards and training to help farmers make the right decisions.”
Al McCone, WorkSafe’s Sector Lead for agriculture, says farmers need to always consider if their vehicle is the right one for the job.
Using the safety mechanisms provided with those vehicles is also essential.
“Operator protective devices and the use of seat belts in vehicles are two key areas farmers can reduce the likelihood of an accident occurring.
“Among front seat passengers and drivers, seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45% and the risk of serious injury by 50%.
“People not wearing a seatbelt are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash.
“While rollover protection has contributed to a decrease in fatal injuries, most of the recent tractor fatalities could have been prevented by the driver wearing the seatbelt.
“This focus isn’t about telling farmers how to farm but helping them make the right decisions when using vehicles, so they can go home to their families safe and well at the end of every day.”
Julie Dee, whose husband Paul died in an ATV side-by-side rollover close to their Waihao Downs home near Waimate last year, supports the greater focus on vehicles.
“Accidents can happen at any time and to anyone and when things go wrong they escalate quickly and can result in death.
“Getting some basic safety procedures in place for every trip can make the difference and save lives in that one time in a million when the unexpected occurs.
“Lives are lost on small margin mistakes and can be saved also by making small changes.
“Wearing seatbelts in all vehicles on farm that have them fitted are a very good step in the right direction for getting every member of the farming team, including the boss, home safely every day.
“This change in seatbelt culture on farm will not happen unless a change of thinking in our culture occurs and farm bosses step up in their responsibilities and expectations for their farm.
“Changing the concept or wearing a seatbelt on farm from one of annoyance to one of feeling they are ensuring they get home safely is key.
“The unforeseen might not happen on their patch – but if it was to happen, if a seatbelt culture has already been established, it might just save a life.”
Tony Watson of the Agricultural Leaders’ Health and Safety Action Group, agrees: “It’s clear that vehicles are a critical risk.
“Farmers need to check that they and their people are doing everything they can to minimise the chance of things going wrong.
“Farmers should be asking: ‘What could go wrong? What am I doing about it? Is it enough?”
Federated Farmers President Katie Milne comments:
“Any time a vehicle is involved in the work we do, we need to be aware of the elevated level of risk.
“Vehicles are part of everyday farm work but the numbers show that they are the biggest risk to our safety, and the safety of our staff and family, so it’s crucially important we don’t get complacent or lose focus.
“In particular – know where the risky parts of the farm are in terms of steep country or country that can get more dangerous depending on the weather.
“A short amount of time spent planning for risky situations can make the job a lot easier and more efficient, as well as safer.
“Because vehicles are such a big part of farming, not only do we need to be aware of the risk, but we have to focus on forming good habits right from the very start.”
Milne says farmers should “really focus” on good training and competency.
“Make sure your staff or family are competent using the vehicles they will be using on the farm, before they set out on a job.
“The same goes when working with animals – as all farmers know even the ones that aren’t unruly can catch out the complacent.
“Person vs cow, bull, sheep, or deer can end in a win for team “beast” in the blink of an eye if you’re not careful”.