For those of you that didn’t know, the month of October is National Safe Work Month – ‘a time to commit to building safe and healthy workplaces for all Australians’. If you are like me, you probably didn’t realise that this month and the initiatives behind it exist, but you are probably aware of the risks and dangers of working on farm.
FACT: Work-related injury and disease cost the Australian community $61.8 billion in a year. The Western Magazine reports that Safe Work Australia’s agriculture key work health and safety data found 40 workers in the agricultural industry are killed each year. A SafeWork NSW spokesperson said workers in the agriculture sector are at greater risk of being killed or injured at work than most.
Reading this commentary did not prompt me to write this article. Instead, I am devastated to say that since this stat was reported, the number is now 41. This Friday, the 9th of November 2018, we will say goodbye to one of AgriWebb’s biggest advocates and one of our very first customers in QLD – Lachlan Hughes.
Sadly, Lachlan was killed last week in a farm accident involving grain machinery. My thoughts are with his family, friends and especially his wife who is expecting their third child. Lachlan was a huge contributor to the agricultural industry and was an innovative thought leader.
Lachlan was an avid member of AgForce and has left a huge gap in the agricultural industry. AgForce General President Grant Maudsley said Lachlan was one of the most decent, considered people in the beef industry he has ever met.
My relationship with Lachlan Hughs
This news really hits home for me. Lachlan, and all our other valued customers, are not just users of AgriWebb’s software, but are trusted partners and friends. We created AgriWebb to not only help farming businesses, but also to create long trusting and meaningful relationships, which in many cases become friendships. I considered Lachlan as a friend and I will deeply miss him.
I visited Lachlan on farm in November 2015 when AgriWebb was in its product infancy and I spent most of my time on the road speaking with farmers and uncovering their pain points. He signed up to AgriWebb on 30 December 2015 as an early adopter and believer of AgriWebb and innovative technologies.
I remained in contact on a very regular basis and would speak with him almost monthly. Not only would we discuss AgriWebb, but the future of agriculture, innovation and technology. He is a huge believer in technology and would be the first to adopt new products and was in the process of investing a significant amount of money on farm sensors. He was always looking to be at the cutting edge of livestock production.
Below is a photo I took of Lachlan when I was on farm with him in September and we discussed creating an Innovation Partner Program for great minds to come together in our office in Sydney to plan future product development. Now that Lachlan has gone, we will look to do something of this nature in his name.
This tragic incident is another example of a farm accident that could have been avoided, and now the community one of the greats, and three little kids no longer have a father.
RIP Lachlan Hughes.
Unfortunately, I have many more stories similar to Lachlan’s. Some people have escaped with their life and others have not. There are so many examples of farm accidents that could have been avoided by simple means. Motorbike helmets, seatbelts on country tracks and safety equipment around windmills and machinery just to name a few from my own experience.
Wearing helmets – risky business
I have seen two family members survive serious motorbike accidents. A couple of years ago, my father was knocked off his motorbike after a kangaroo jumped out of nowhere and collided sideways with him. His head hit the ground and smashed the helmet. He was unconscious and would have certainly been killed had he not worn a helmet.
About 10 years ago my cousin had a motorbike accident, ended up in a coma for many weeks, and had he not been wearing a helmet he would have also been killed.
Quad bikes and tractors are the biggest killers in terms of farm accidents, whereby in 2015 they accounted for 40% of the deaths. It is quite scary to think that many farm workers still do not wear helmets while riding motorbikes. Not only is this crazy from a safety perspective, but it is a risky business practice. A precedent has recently been set that farm owners can actually be sued for not enforcing wearing a helmet. In September 2018, SafeWork NSW took a farm operator to court claiming that it had exposed a contractor to risk of death or serious injury by not making him wear a helmet. The matter will return to court for sentencing at a later date.
I have seen time and time again people in the farming community coming up with excuses why they shouldn’t wear helmets. Either it’s not ‘cool’ to wear helmets; the speeds are so low that it doesn’t warrant it; or its too hot to wear one. I don’t buy in to any of these. You can fall off your bike droving cattle and hit your head on a rock and your time can come to an end. I have also spent days on end mustering stock in 48 degree heat (in the shade!) wearing a helmet and I wouldn’t take it off for any reason. It’s just not worth it. So save your excuses, and wear a helmet!
Quad bikes, tractors and wearing seatbelts
From my own experience, the concept of wearing seatbelts on the open road compared to farm tracks are entirely different practices. The former is habitual and comes with a social stigma. People would openly question you if you did not wear a seatbelt on the open road. Contrast this with the later…wearing a seatbelt roaring down a farm track. Not only is it not common, but it comes with a stigma and seen as an inconvenience. It seems kind of absurd doesn’t it? Unsealed gravelly roads are prone to car rollovers, so why wouldn’t everyone wear a seatbelt. I lost a friend on a unsealed road near my family’s station in Northern South Australia due to a rollover on an unsealed road.
The farming community needs to do more
I have only outlined a couple of areas of farm safety, but it seems that the simple measures can sometimes help prevent serious injury and deaths on farm. Its time the agricultural community changes its social and operational perspective on farm safety.
There are plenty of resources available to help people implement safe working practices. This has to be driven from the top through farm management, but it also requires the younger community to shift the stigma.
Let’s ensure everyone comes home to their families.