Serious injury claims are on the rise and agricultural industries are the most dangerous, according to the latest data from the Commonwealth work safety body.
Warning: This story contains images that some readers may find distressing.
- Safe Work Australia has released data showing workplace injuries rose in 2019-20
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing were the most dangerous industries
- Amid a serious labour shortage and a bumper harvest, experts worry it may get worse before it gets better
This week, Safe Work Australia (SWA) released statistics for Australian workers’ compensation claims in the 2019-20 financial year, showing a small rise across most industries after four years of stalled progress on safety.
‘Agriculture, forestry and fishing’ held its place as the most dangerous industry per hour worked and per employee for the 20th straight year.
“There are a lot of people working very hard to improve safety in agriculture,’ Safe Farms WA executive officer Maree Gooch said.
“Risk management needs to be put to the forefront.”
The SWA statistics show serious workplace injury claims were more common in 2019-20 than the year before on both a per-employee and per-hour basis.
This cannot be explained by a natural increase in work — total hours worked actually declined slightly, possibly due to COVID-19 restrictions and the rise in unemployment during the first half of 2020.
In agriculture, forestry and fishing, the number of workers entitled to compensation declined just as the incidences of serious injury claims hit a four-year high of 18.6 per 1,000 employees.
“Certainly in the last six years [workplace safety in agriculture] has plateaued,” James Cook University Professor Richard Franklin said.
“That says to me that some of the low-hanging fruit has been addressed and there’s a lot more work to be done.”
West Australian farmer Colin Holmes seriously injured his hand in a shearing accident in 2018.
“The handpiece locked up, spun around, and sliced my hand open,” he said.
“I’m lucky to still have both hands.”
After his accident, Mr Holmes replaced installed electric cut-outs on his shearing heads.
However, as an independent farmer, his accident was not covered by workplace compensation or included in the statistics published by SWA.
Professor Franklin noted that only 60 per cent of agriculture, forestry and fishing workers were entitled to compensation under the commonwealth scheme, the lowest of any industry by a 17 per cent margin.
He said the numbers were likely to seriously underestimate the prevalence of serious injury in primary industries.
“There is more that we can do — there’s no doubt about that.”
More stress to come
More than a year has passed since the claims were captured in SWA’s data.
In that time, labour shortages have seriously challenged primary industries and road transport — the sub-industry with the greatest rate of serious injuries.
“There may be a lot of people who previously just did management helping with the crop.
“We may not see that in the workers’ comp numbers because the people likely to be doing more are those who own the property.”
2021 has also seen extremely high rainfall and a bumper harvest across major grain-growing regions.
This adds to farmers’ workloads during the busy harvest period, when extra-long workdays are the norm.
“The shortage of skilled labour is probably making things a bit harder,” Mr Holmes said.
“It puts everybody under more pressure and things can start to go wrong.”
Mr Holmes advised farm workers to “take your time, ask questions and if you see something you don’t feel comfortable doing, talk to your employer.”
“Stand up for yourself and if you really don’t feel safe, get another job, because at the end of the day you only get one chance at life.”
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