Lower death toll shows 'farm safety focus paying off'

The farm toll is falling with 10 fewer deaths recorded in 2012-13 than in the previous year.

Fatal accidents on farms dropped from 31 deaths in 2008-09 until climbing again to 29 deaths in 2011-12, but fell away sharply last season to 19 deaths.

The declining toll is a result of greater efforts to improve workplace safety, says Federated Farmers. Fewer farm deaths in an industry which experiences more fatalities than many other workplaces was confirmed by both WorkSafe NZ and ACC.

Federated Farmers health and safety spokeswoman Jeanette Maxwell said the drop in fatalities since 2008 showed efforts to make the farm workplace safer were working.

More farmers were using health and safety plans on farms and buying into workplace drug and alcohol policies, she said.

"With fatalities trending down from the use of active education, communication, and a growing awareness that mental and physical health are also key to reduced fatalities, farmers will be in good stead when the new regulations come to fore."

On-farm fatalities for the Christmas and New Year period had declined from four deaths on pastoral farms in 2009-10 to one in 2013-14. The months of December and January are a high risk period for farmers as they are often tired and do not go on holiday until late January and have more distractions from visitors in between harvesting, drafting and continuing with milking.

The annual statistics for new claims of on-farm deaths by ACC takes in all fatalities on lifestyle blocks and horticulture properties as well as pastoral farms. New claims received for fatalities have gone from 31 in 2008-09 to 19 in 2012-13.

Farming is considered riskier work than many other workplaces because farmers work in isolation with heavy farm machinery and stock often in steep terrain and during bad weather. Depression and isolation can add to the risk. There is no distinction between farm deaths and suicides in the ACC or WorkSafe statistics. Older farmers feature more in death statistics than younger farmers despite their experience and a theory is their familiarity with the land and machinery can lead to complacency.

Maxwell said the work by Federated Farmers, ACC, the Department of Labour, WorkSafe, FarmSafe and other organisations was starting to pay off with greater awareness of health and safety on farms.

"Whilst no fatality is acceptable, what we are seeing is a culture change from the hard work of the agricultural industry and its stakeholders. Just like improving our water quality, these things take time. These statistics show we are well on our way to getting it right and I would like to thank everyone who has worked with us and alongside us to improve health and safety on farm."

The Press