Mix of on-farm hazards a challenge for parents
FACTORIES and workshops don’t have houses parked in the middle of them. Farms do.
This is a basic reality of farming life, and that in turn creates the unusual situation where children often become a part of that workplace.
Fiona O’Sullivan, agriculture unit manager for Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, said that isolation, preventing access to childcare, could compound that presence of children in the agricultural workplace.
“It’s just not practical in a lot of instances,” Fiona said.
“So we sometimes end up with children having to be part of that workplace at a very young age; maybe not even doing the work, but being present while the work’s being done, because not everyone has the availability of a having a carer to help with that.”
Fiona said the primary areas for injury of younger children on farms was around drownings in water storages and septic tanks, and run-over incidents.
“The driveway for any family is a really high-risk area, regardless of what industry they’re in,” she said.
“If a child is going to be run over, it’s usually going to be in a driveway, and it’s usually going to be by a member of the family. And the same really does apply to a farm.
“The run-over areas are a little different – around houses and around sheds. It’s where there is a lot of machinery operating, and we do get small children there. It’s critical to have a clear separation between children
and those work areas, because that’s a really high-risk area.
“The visibility, especially from heavy machinery is just not there to be able to spot a small child.”
For older children becoming involved in farm work, there should be clear education about how to do jobs.
“That can be a bit of a test for everybody, because we all learn from our parents, who learnt from their parents, and sometimes there’s a family shortcut to doing something,” Fiona said.
“We have to work to change that culture. Near enough is definitely not good enough: you need to be able to do things properly, and use the right equipment to do the tasks properly: that does stop a lot of incidents occurring.
“Spend that time with children to teach them, to tell them stories about doing things the right way, because most children learn through stories.”
She said good communication around work and safety processes from parents would establish confidence and understanding in children
“Be able to have that time to put into the kids from very early on, so that if they are involved in the work, they know what’s expected of them, they know they’re not in a position where they are scared to speak up if they need help, or say if they don’t know something.
“That’s where we see older children getting into trouble, when they are pushing those boundaries, as all teenage kids do.
“Young workers are at really high risk because they don’t know their boundaries, and they don’t know their jobs.
“We just need to make sure those boundaries are safe for them, so they can be fully integrated in the workplace and learn how to do things properly from the word go.”
Only around one third of injuries in agriculture in Queensland are covered under Workers’ Compensation. Owners of properties and their family members are not legally defined as “workers”, so injuries are not covered.
And so, the statistics relating to children who are injured or killed on farms don’t actually contribute to that already horrendous fact that “3% of Queenslanders work on farms, but 30% of workplace deaths happen on them”.
“Those numbers are bad enough, but because those numbers are really only talking about compensatable injuries and fatalities, we know the numbers are even more horrific,” Fiona said.
“We need to have the government working closely with peak industry bodies, and the agriculture sector, all levels of workers and industry bodies, working together to bring these statistics down.
“Statistics are one thing, but the impacts we see in a rural community from an injury or fatality: it wrecks lives, it wrecks communities, it wrecks families. A lot of families don’t ever get over that, having lost a child in a workplace injury. The impact on the whole community is almost indescribable.”
“Pull up and stop, think about what you’re doing, and how we should be doing it properly.”
This story is the final of a c four-part series sponsored by the Queensland Government Office of Industrial Relations
FARM SAFE: Workplace Health and Safety Queensland agriculture unit manager Fiona O’Sullivan with Nelson.