Farmer Jack Armstrong talks managing workplace safety in agriculture

Farmer Jack Armstrong is encouraging those who work on farms to have conversations about managing fatigue. Photo: Contributed

SHEEP and cropping farmer Jack Armstrong knows that in agriculture it pays to be proactive with safety, particularly when it comes to managing the risks of fatigue during peak periods.

During what can be a higher-risk time for farming workplaces, Mr Armstrong, who farms at Yalla-Y-Poora, south-east of Ararat, is encouraging farmers and workers to have important conversations around health and safety and managing fatigue risks.

WorkSafe data shows March and November are peak months for workplace fatalities in agriculture, corresponding with the busy sowing and harvest seasons.

Mr Armstrong said he could see the dangerous role fatigue could play in contributing to workplace incidents on farms through his own experiences.

“There are some horror stories of people having massive incidents. A farmer near here was bailing one night after working massive hours and they crashed the tractor into a power pole,” Mr Armstrong said.

“He ended up being okay but the machinery was toast. It’s having stories like that in the back of your mind that you need to learn from.

“It’s just a shame that it takes something bad to happen to create some good – you’d prefer to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Mr Armstrong is adding his voice to WorkSafe’s emotive campaign, ‘It’s never you, until it is’, which is making a return with advertising across regional television, radio, print and digital media to offer practical safety solutions for farmers and encourage conversations around safety.

Mr Armstrong describes fatigue among farmers as “extremely common”, particularly at busy times.

“The work that we do can be different to other jobs – it can be very manually intensive and the hours can be quite exhaustive and that can really catch up to a person,” he said.

“I think a lot of farmers can have the misconception that if they work really hard and work long hours they’ll get more done and be more efficient when you sort of just end up burning the candle at both ends.”

WorkSafe Inspector, Dallas Braam, urged farmers and farm workers to listen to their bodies and not shrug off the signs of fatigue.

“Fatigue affects your decision making and when your decision making is affected, not only are you affecting yourself potentially, but the people you’re working with, who are usually family and friends,” he said.

“Taking a break to get hydrated, have some food, or call a friend could prevent an injury out there and you’ll be going home to see your loved ones at the end of the day – that’s the difference.”

Families and communities are reeling from the loss of two lives in workplace incidents on farms already this year, taking the number of work-related deaths in agriculture to 34 since January 2020.

Farmers and farm workers who suffer serious injuries also face a long road to get back on the job, with more than 25 per cent of those injured still unable to return to farming one year on from a serious incident.

WorkSafe Executive Director, Narelle Beer, said every conversation about farm safety helped remove the stigma around health and safety in agriculture.

“We’re working for a future where safety is at the centre of farming operations and where deaths and injuries are seen to be preventable, not inevitable,” Dr Beer said.

“Every time a farmer or farm worker talks about farm safety helps to make a real difference in preventing families and communities from losing loved ones.”

More information on the ‘It’s never you, until it is’ campaign and farm safety can be found at worksafe.vic.gov.au/saferfarms