Farm deaths so far this year lower than in last three years

WorkSafe's Al McCone advises farmers should use seatbelts on tractors in the same way as they routinely use them in cars.

WorkSafe's Al McCone advises farmers should use seatbelts on tractors in the same way as they routinely use them in cars.

Fewer farmers have been killed on the job in the first nine months of this year than for the same period in each of the last three years.

So far to the beginning of October,  11 farmers have died compared to an average of 15 for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

On Saturday two people died riding quad bikes on farms within hours of each other, one in Eketahuna and the other at Okiwi Bay, Marlborough. This brought the total of quad bike deaths to five for the year so far, the same for the whole of last year. 

The table shows deaths in a number of sectors, including agriculture.

The table shows deaths in a number of sectors, including agriculture.

The worst year for quad bike deaths was in 2015 when nine people died. 

Farming is New Zealand's most dangerous occupation. Over the last seven years,  126 farmers have died while working, far eclipsing the numbers killed in construction (35) and forestry (33).

However WorkSafe agriculture sector leader Al McCone said while the figures showed the beginning of a positive trend, they needed to be treated with caution because they could change from year to year.

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"What we're seeing is a big drop in tractor deaths but it may be the wet weather of the last nine months which may have restricted the way farmers use their tractors and it may also have restricted the use of contractor tractors."

Compared with previous years where there was an average of five tractor deaths, during the first nine months this year there had been just one.

McCone said a simple solution to tractor accidents was for farmers to wear a seatbelt.

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"A lot of farmers who use seatbelts on the road don't wear them on tractors. All modern tractors have them installed but people are wilfully not using them."

Another heartening trend was the fall in "week away from work" injuries. ACC figures show for the six months from January to June, these serious injuries had fallen from 1077 last year to 904 this year.

"Again there is a reduction but there's always that question: has it been because of the wet weather that we haven't been doing as much on farms?" McCone said.

He had noticed many farms now with maps depicting no-go zones where there were hazards, as well as the use of apps which highlight dangerous areas.

"That's the best thing you can do in terms of practical risk management," McCone said.

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said while it was positive that there were fewer deaths in agriculture this year than this time last year, New Zealand's overall statistics were still too high.

In a comparison of nine countries, New Zealand ranked seventh for the most deaths per 100,000 in the agriculture, hunting and forestry sectors. Norway and Sweden had worse records.

"We need an increase to the resources available to Worksafe to continue their good work. We have to ask ourselves whether we are OK with 'only' nine agriculture deaths, and 'only' three more quad bike deaths," Wagstaff said.

"Yearly variations in statistics are not always indicative of a change in culture, practice, or risk - it's the long term trend that we are interested in," Wagstaff said.

Death and injury should not be accepted as the natural cost of doing business. The best employers should be showcased as examples for others to follow.

 - Stuff

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