This is a good news, bad news sort of story. On one hand, there has been a significant drop in the number of people dying from injuries and accidents on farms. On the other hand, quad bikes are a growing cause for concern.

The Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety is keen to hear from people who have had safety problems or accidents involving quad bikes. The Centre’s director, Associate Professor Tony Lower, says this information will help design effective interventions.

Farm safety is improving, BUT…

Associate Professor Tony Lower writes:

The typical story you hear relating to farm injuries is one of doom and gloom when a misfortunate farmer, worker or sometimes a child, has died or suffered serious lifelong injuries as a result of an accident.

Thankfully this is not one of those stories.

Information compiled by the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety from the National Coroners Information System has indicated a 44% reduction in the average annual number of non-intentional farm deaths over the past 20 years (from 146/year to 82/year).

Some might say this is just because there are fewer farmers working in rural Australia. However, over the same time work-related death rates have dropped by 54% and deaths per 10,000 farms by 35%. So this clearly is not just creative accounting – there is a real and quite significant reduction in on-farm injury deaths.

Over the period 2002-2006, there were 324 fatalities, with the main causes being tractors (57 cases), quad bikes (30 cases), farm utes (27 cases), dams/other water bodies (27 cases) and motorcycles (16 cases). A truly tragic finding was that 17% (55 cases) were of children under the age of 15 years, with one-third of these being visitors to the farm.

Unfortunately, this still means there are 82 families each year whose lives are irreversibly changed. So while things are headed in a positive direction, there is still lots more that can be done to reduce these deaths.

For each of these main causes, there are effective steps that farmers can take to reduce the chances of injury and death.  Additionally, a recent economic assessment on the costs of farm deaths covering the period 2001-2004, conservatively estimated the costs associated with these deaths as costing $651million.

Of serious concern is the continued rise and prominence of quad bike deaths in this information. While we know a good deal about the nature of deaths from quad bikes (thanks to the National Coroners Information System), our knowledge and understanding of serious injury and near misses associated with use of quad bikes is not so well developed.

With a view to introducing more effective interventions, the Centre is keen to talk with people about their injury experiences with quad bikes. If you would like to share your information with us, we would be happy to speak with you.

Without doubt, consolidated programs are required to prompt farmers to take up the existing solutions that are available. If you were writing a school report on the agriculture sector, its likely you’d get a comment along the lines of “Improving …. but could do much better”.

It simply does not make sense not to address these issues from either a social, ethical, legal or economic viewpoint.

So while we need to applaud the efforts of the farming community in reducing injury deaths, more can and must be done.  All farmers need to start using the effective solutions that are available and as one well known sports brand extols, “Just do it!”

Copies of the fatality and economics reports can be downloaded via the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety website.

To share your experiences around serious injuries and near misses on quad bikes or to gain more information, phone the Centre on (02) 6752 8210.

***

Update, Feb 24

The Centre has released a report based upon media coverage of quad bike deaths and serious injuries. It highlights at least nine fatalities and 43 serious injuries involving quad bikes in 2010. Rollovers of quad bikes continue to be a leading issue for on-farm fatalities and serious injury.  The report can be downloaded via either www.aghealth.org.au (under Data & Research / Research Reports) or www.farmsafe.org.au (via Breaking News section)

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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