JOHN “Wacka” Williams and Barry O’Sullivan are urging farmers to review work-place safety standards like ensuring insurance schemes are updated to protect them from being sued over a serious accident.
The two Nationals Senators were compelled to speak-out following the tragic story of a woman being scalped following a horrific shearing shed accident before Christmas on a property in central-west NSW, which required 20-hours emergency surgery.
Senator Williams has also spent the parliamentary break working on and supervising his own shearing program at Inverell in regional NSW, which has heightened his concerns about on-farm safety.
Senator O’Sullivan runs cattle grazing properties in regional Queensland and has an acute awareness of on-farm safety procedures and the steps needed to prevent accidents and protect property owners.
Senator Williams said the recent accident where the 21-year-old roustabout’s hair was caught in an overhead shaft while working in a shearing shed, was “very alarming”.
“I’ve spent about 30 years working in shearing sheds as a shearer and I’ve seen hand pieces flying about which are a dangerous ‘weapon’ but have never known of someone to get their hear entangled with an overhead shaft,” he said.
Senator Williams said he was concerned some farmers could be exposed to legal action if they didn’t have the right insurance plans in place to cover such an accident.
“We’re in the land of litigation and it seems to be following America,” he said.
“If a grazier is sued and a court rules there was neglect in providing a safe work place, will their workers’ compensation cover it, will their professional indemnity insurance cover it, who knows?
“But I don’t want to see farmers put their assets at risk because of a court case.
“I don’t want to see workers injured and I don’t want to see farmers sued so what I’m saying is; do your best, according to what your budget can afford and what time you’ve got, to make your work environment as safe as it can be, for your own good and the good of your workers.”
Senator Williams said he and Senator O’Sullivan didn’t have any immediate plans to introduce tougher laws, via federal parliament, in direct response to the scalping accident.
But he said farmers needed to be more aware of the tools at their disposal already, to improve safety standards and be proactive.
“The big stick approach isn’t needed and is too heavy and government is already involved in too many things,” he said.
“But I just hope we can get the message out there to say, ‘be aware, be careful, train your people, warn your people, put the guards in, and if you can afford to update and modernise your gear, please do it’ and just be conscious of that very issue.
“I don’t want to see (parliament) banning the use of overhead shaft gear.”
Senator Williams said people would be looking on and asking what caused the shearing shed accident but the question to address now was, “what do you do?”
“Does the boss say ‘don’t go near the shaft’ or does the owner say the shaft has to be enclosed for safety?” he said.
“The best thing we can do is highlight the dangers on-farm and the potential for accidents, whether they be ATV’s (all-terrain vehicles), motor bikes, horses or shearing equipment and machinery accidents.
“Farmers must be fully aware of doing what they can to make their work environment safe.
“You’ll always have accidents and we do have accidents but we need to reduce them as much as we can and do what we can to ensure workers are safe.”
Senator O’Sullivan said agricultural producers had two “standout” steps available to them, to improve on-farm safety, with the first being to ensure their insurance policies are properly in place and “adequate” and also reviewed annually.
He said more care was needed during the introduction and orientation of people coming onto the farm, particularly those only visiting for a short period of time, to do a particular task.
He said in the case of the woman being scalped in the shearing shed, a one cent rubber band could well have saved her from suffering serious injury.
“In the introduction to the farm, you can’t assume these people know anything because you’ll say to them, ‘have you ridden a motor bike before or do you think you’re ok on a motor bike?’ and they’ll say, ‘yes I’m ok on a motor bike’ because 18 years before that they went on a mini motor bike around the back yard, at a mate’s farm,” he said.
“So it’s important to take the time to help them understand the dangers.
“You may have country where there’s a lot of rabbit warrens but if you don’t mention that they’ll tear across that country and the next thing that happens is the motor bike’s going to tip them ass-overhead.
“So it’s a just a matter of taking the time to warn them about what dangers they’re going to be exposed to on-farm and give them a proper orientation to the property.”
Senator O’Sullivan said people of lower or no skills needed constant supervision and help to guide them because “it’s all too late when the accident happens”.
“I think we’ve got an enviable reputation and record in this country in terms of work place health and safety and care for people working for us, compared to some nations,” he said.
“It’s all there, all the resources in the world, of how to educate your employees and guests on a property but we just need to pay serious attention to it.”
Senator O’Sullivan said in many circumstances, generic guidelines already existed where farmers and property owners could assesses and test the safety circumstances of their work environment.
“I bet there’s rules out there that says you shouldn’t be anywhere near rotating shafts of so many RPM without protective head gear,” he said.
“I think all the rules are there, it’s just a matter of practicing them on farm.
“But if this happens with monotonous regularity, government will involve themselves which is inevitable and the last thing you want.”
Senator Williams said farmers should also consider modernising their shearing shed equipment, like tools with the capacity to stop automatically in the event of danger such as a woman’s hair becoming entangled in an over-head shaft.
He said it was expensive to update that equipment and not always practical – but farmers needed to consider and revise their operations, with an eye on safety.
“Out in station country the farmer may not have power and it may cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy a new generator and run power to the shearing shed,” he said.
“But what I’m saying is, if their budget can afford it, I’d like to see graziers do what they can to update their equipment and see that they’re using safer equipment.”
An online fundraising campaign to support Casey Barnes who was injured in the shearing shed accident has a target of $200,000 and has raised about $50,000 since being established in mid-December.
“While tramping the wool down in a wool pack to make more room, Casey's amazing, long, beautiful, curly hair which was in a bun was caught in an electric motor located above her,” it says.
“This motor has a belt on it that drives a shaft to run the hand pieces so the shearers can shear.
“Our poor darling Casey was scalped from the back of the head releasing just above her eyes and ears.
“Casey has undergone a number of surgery's to try and save her scalp but unfortunately her scalp was unable to be saved as it died and did not take.
“Casey is now undergoing surgery to have artificial skin put on her head.”
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The story Scalping accident in shearing shed raises on-farm safety warning first appeared on Farm Online.