Posted on: February 12, 2021

How to manage the risks of machinery in your rural workplace

More than 40 agricultural workers die each year with about 85% of those occurring on farms, according to Safe Work Australia. A shocking seven out of 10 fatalities involve plant, machinery and vehicles.

Sounds serious. That’s why Safe Work Australia has named the agricultural sector one of seven priority areas for dealing with workplace health and safety risks.

Quad bikes under the spotlight

Farm vehicles such as quad bikes cause the most fatalities on farms. They’ve killed more than 280 people in the past two decades. Here’s what causes accidents or fatalities with them:

  • Poor maintenance
  • Carrying heavier loads than for which they’re designed
  • Driver speed, negligence, recklessness, or lack of training
  • No operator protection device
  • Uneven terrain
  • Not wearing personal protective clothing such as helmets
  • Letting children drive adult-sized quad bikes.

Last October, new Australian Safety Standards came into force for new and imported quad bikes, and from October this year, new rules will apply. All new and second-hand imported utility quad bikes should have minimum stability levels and an operator protection device (such as roll-over protection). These changes came about due to a 2019 court case that saw a farmer ordered to pay $400,000 compensation to someone injured on-farm while riding the farmer’s quad bike.

Understanding the risks

There’s a lot more to rural workplaces than just quad bikes, though. Chances are your farm, or rural workplace has some of these types of machinery or equipment:

  • Harvesters, balers, planters, cultivators, elevators and grain augers
  • Powered mobile plant including front-end loaders, mowers, tractors
  • On-farm vehicles, for example quad bikes, motorbikes, modified vehicles and utes
  • Tools and equipment, including power take-offs, slashers, brush cutters, chainsaws, baling presses, grinders, welders, irrigation pumps, generators, slashers, etc.

Each of those could open up a Pandora’s Box of risks from those operating or maintaining the machinery to collisions while reversing, loading or unloading. But, consider safety, too, when they’re not in use. You’d need processes to ensure the plant is parked, shut down and in a safe state to stop someone using it accidentally or without authorisation. Ensure you label machinery that needs repairing, so it stays out of service until fixed. Stored or potential energy in equipment from electrical or hydraulic components could be an issue when inspecting, repairing or maintaining.

To reduce your risk profile, here’s an overarching guide from Safe Work Australia:

  • Identify the potential hazards
  • Assess the risks and how they can be eliminated, controlled, substituted (with something safer), isolated, or minimised
  • Take charge to deal with the risks.

The guide also has useful advice for choosing plant, registering particular types, transporting, sorting out where they go in your workplace layout and how to train, instruct and supervise others using it.

Please note, it’s your role to consult workers and their health and safety representatives (if they have them) when you decide how to manage your machinery, equipment and plant risks in your rural workplace.

Taking care of the legalities

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the corresponding WHS law in your state or territory, you, as the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) have specific responsibilities and duties of care. Those roles relate to the farm owner, manager and employee. They include ensuring a safe workplace with safe work systems for everyone who comes into contact with the farm – family members, staff, contractors and visitors. A major issue is that workers’ compensation covers only about half of Australian farmworkers because most are self-employed.

Boosting your risk management

You can protect yourself and your rural workplace against a range of risks with a customised insurance package for your farm business. Adding farm machinery cover to your package means you’re covered for tractors and other equipment that you lease or own for use in farming. Consider also farm motor insurance, which is a comprehensive cover for your own vehicle as well as liability for damage to others’ vehicles and property.

Farm liability insurance protects you for third party injury or property damage due to your negligence and caused by your farming operations including farming machinery, farm buildings, animals or people working on your farm. There are also different policies for commercial rather than hobby farms. As your broker/adviser, we can build and customise an insurance package for you that covers your machinery risks as well as the whole farming operation.

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