Animal Health

Farm safety: Why take the risk?

By Gemma Chuck

Even experienced farmers with good cattle handling skills and facilities cannot completely mitigate the risks associated with working with large animals and heavy-duty equipment. Dairy cattle are semi-domesticated which can sometimes lead to staff complacency during routine procedures. Farm machinery can be difficult to manoeuvre with poor visibility, making it high risk for operators and bystanders.

A farm safety report card compiled by Sydney University showed there were 68 farm deaths reported by the Australian media in 2017, a slight rise from the 63 in 2016. Tractors (13) and quad bikes (11) were the leading causes of death, making up more than 40 per cent of the total. Tragically, nine of the fatal cases (13 per cent) involved children aged under 15 years, with quad bikes involved in a third of these incidents.

Horse-related accidents were the leading cause of animal-related deaths in Australia. Accidents involving cows and bulls came in second, with dog-related deaths being in third place.

Farm accidents often occur while doing routine tasks that have been done countless times before. Failure to properly identify and manage workplace hazards can increase the risk of these accidents occurring.

There are numerous on-line resources to assist farm owners and managers with identifying safety hazards on farm and managing the likelihood/severity of these risks. General principles to follow include:

  • 1. Identify hazards on your farm. This is best done in consultation with staff and contractors who regularly work on site, and needs to be an ongoing process. Set up a method for those who work on your farm to report hazards as they are discovered, such as ineffective or broken equipment, live exposed electrical wires or dangerous animals.
  • 2. Assess the risk for each hazard. A matrix can help identify which hazards are the highest priority for implementing controls. The higher the likelihood of a hazard causing harm, and the greater the severity of consequences, the higher a risk would be rated.
  • 3. Implement controls. Once hazards have been identified and the level of risk assessed, controls should be put in place to prevent injury. There are numerous ways risks can be controlled. In order of effectiveness, these are:
  • a. Eliminate the hazard if reasonably practicable. For example, remove a low beam that poses a tripping hazard in the dairy.
  • b. Substitute for a hazard of lesser risk. An example of substitution would be to use side-by-side ATVs instead of quad bikes for farm work.
  • c. Isolate the hazard by redesigning the work flow. For example, using a hydraulic tipper crush to administer teat sealant in heifers instead of performing this procedure in the dairy.
  • d. Change the way people work to reduce risks. A good example is ensuring staff are adequately trained to competently use dangerous equipment.
  • e. Use personal protective equipment to reduce the impact of hazards. For example, ensure staff wear gloves when handling hazardous chemicals or drugs.

A series of detailed and valuable safety resources are available online from organisations such as:

It is essential that all farm workers and contractors, and especially farm owners and managers, work to create a culture of safety by making it a priority. From a veterinarian’s perspective, to assist in keeping all staff and animals safe:

  • Ensure that a farm worker is on site when the vet arrives to assist if necessary. Not only will this reduce the risk of injury, it makes the veterinary work more efficient, improves the ability to make an accurate diagnosis and ultimately saves you money.
  • Ensure your cattle handling facilities and equipment are designed with safety in mind and kept in good working order.

It’s up to all of us in the industry to work together to make sure everyone gets home safe and sound to their families.

In fond memory of Ross and Andy Powell who dedicated their lives to keeping us safe.

Dr Gemma Chuck is an advisor with apiam animal health