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OHS in Agriculture 3 July 2023

OHS Inquiry into the Agricultural Industry

A recent WorkSafe Inquiry (2023) was established by WorkSafe Commissioner Darren Kavanagh into the agriculture industry following reports of 12 fatalities in 12 months. In short, findings suggest that almost all fatalities were avoidable had the correct occupational health and safety work practices been applied.

The data showed that approximately 90% of fatalities were men, nearly half were men aged over 55, and the majority involved machinery including tractors, seeders, a wool press, quad bikes, and trucks.


“… two specific things that need to change: The attitude to the regulator; and the focus on safe practices …"

Pamela Scott, Inquirer.


The Inquiry highlighted the difficult nature of the industry being largely made up of small family-run agricultural businesses, with few permanent staff supplemented by seasonal workers, and low unionisation. These businesses require assistance to develop and maintain safe systems of work. Further to this the report identified a view within the industry that the regulator was solely set up to apply punitive measures and that where a fatality occurred someone would automatically go to jail.

In addition to the 12 deaths in 12 months, 178 serious injuries in the past five years had been reported to the Department for Mines Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS). Most of the injuries were in the grain and livestock farming sector. Alarmingly these figures were found to be understated as many farmers fail to disclose injuries to the regulator.

The Inquiry recognised that the industry exhibits unique and hazardous high-risk areas of work. These include:

  • Riding quad bikes (riding on uneven ground, no roll over protection, no helmets)

  • Machinery and vehicle issues (design, repairs ‘here and now’, old unsafe equipment, service accessibility, bogged vehicles)

  • Lone workers

  • Communication with unsighted workers

  • Crushing by animals

  • Reluctance to discipline unsafe workers.

In response to the above, the report makes extensive recommendations to improve the health and safety of workers engaged in high-risk work, including:

  • Engagement with manufacturers to ensure machinery and equipment is fit for purpose

  • Repeated safety campaigns targeting the above hazards

  • Funding to encourage retrofitting roll over protection, upgrading yards to separate workers from large animals, and lone worker emergency systems

  • Drawing industry’s attention to existing codes of practice and guidance notes.

A twofold approach to improve safety awareness and practices was further recommended:

  1. Establishment of an Agricultural Team to set out and implement a long-term plan of inspections and develop and distribute appropriate resources.

  2. Establishment of a non-regulatory advisory service that would work with industry to promote safety.


The message to industry needs to focus more on

how to be safe and how the regulator can assist industry

to achieve that end, rather than the regulator be a vehicle

solely set up to apply punitive measures.


There is overwhelming evidence to suggest an urgent need to improve the health and safety culture in agriculture where every action/activity, regardless of place, is undertaken in a manner that ensures the best safety precautions and methods of work become embedded in the psyche of all who operate in the industry.

Currently Agriculture is regarded as the most dangerous industry to work in and at a time when the industry is experiencing skills and labour shortages, it is critical that the industry demonstrates that it values the health and safety of all that work and operate within it.

Next steps? Check out these helpful resources to get you on the right track:

We hope that this has been of some assistance.


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