Farming less safe than forestry


Farming continues to be New Zealand’s most dangerous occupation, with 19 deaths last year, 16 of them in vehicles. Source: Stuff NZ

Over the last six years, 110 farmers have died on the job, far eclipsing the numbers killed in construction (32) and forestry (27).

WorkSafe New Zealand said 50% of the deaths involved farmers aged 55 and above.

“These were mature and experienced people doing jobs they would have done many times before,” said Al McCone, WorkSafe’s agriculture program manager. “Examining vehicle fatalities from the last three years, we find that often the driver/rider had set out to do a fairly routine task like spraying or stock work.”

Federated Farmers health and safety spokeswoman Katie Milne said the statistics showed that “all vehicles can bite you”.

There had been a focus in recent years on quad bikes, but in 2015 just five of the vehicle fatalities involved quad bikes, and the figure had remained static from previous years.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that we are losing so many farmers. We need to be aware that we are not so young as we once were and we need to be more careful,” Ms Milne said.

The figures were also partly a reflection of an ageing farmer workforce, with the average age of sheep and beef farmers 58 and dairy farmers 48.

Ms Milne said while it seemed logical that a more experienced person would have fewer accidents, there were several factors that led to the contrary.

“There’s a physicality about farming, and there’s complacency – you’ve been over that part of the farm thousands of times before.”

Labour’s Primary Industries spokesman Damien O’Connor said farming was an “inherently risky business” because of the often uneven ground, distance from help and unpredictable animals.

“The high risk people are both the experienced and the inexperienced, and with innovation on farms things are often pushed to the limit,” Mr O’Connor said.

Farming leaders needed to send the right signals; sometimes they sent confused messages around safety.

Mr O’Connor also said WorkSafe was underfunded to carry out its job.

“To keep yourself safe make sure the vehicle won’t move when you get out, and wear seatbelts when in the cab or roll frame. Extra care is needed when working on or near slopes, especially on tracks with steep drop-offs.” In some of the quad fatalities, low tyre tread depth and under-inflated or uneven tyre pressure was noted as a possible contributing factor. Often the vehicle had slid on a slope and a number of incidents involved quad bikes overturning into drains, ditches or waterways. “Good practice like keeping at least one metre from a stream or culvert edges, stopping and dismounting to spray, and working out no go areas on farm in advance could all help prevent incidents,” Mr McCone said.

Farmers were more likely to be working alone at busy times, so having a plan in place for lone workers meant if anything went wrong, the alarm could be raised.

WorkSafe advised the following:

  • When driving any enclosed vehicle, or vehicle with a roll frame, seat belts must be worn. If there is likelihood of head contact with the frame, helmets should be worn.
  • Don’t take any vehicle onto slopes beyond the capabilities of the driver/rider or vehicle – especially when carrying spray tanks or towing trailers.
  • Make sure carried equipment does not exceed the vehicle’s capabilities and that equipment is properly installed on the vehicle.
  • When getting off a tractor, make sure the brakes are on properly and it will not move.
  • Quad riders must be physically able to ride actively and to escape the vehicle quickly if need be.