One law does not fit all, says VFF after farm death figure shock

Australia's farmers are almost twice as likely to die at work than any other workplace Safe Work Australia figures reveal

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Worksafe inspectors attend another work safety incident last month in Ballarat. Picture: Greg Gliddon

Worksafe inspectors attend another work safety incident last month in Ballarat. Picture: Greg Gliddon

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Laws should concentrate on prevention rather than prosecution says VFF and Safe Work Australia releases its workplace death stats for 2018

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FARMS are almost twice as likely to see a workplace fatality than any other industry in Australia, new statistics from Safe Work Australia reveals.

And it's those concerning figures as to why the Victorian Farmers Federation has come out so strongly against proposed new Industrial Manslaughter laws which it says do not work for farms.

Statistics released on Tuesday from Safe Work Australia reveal there were 144 workplace deaths in Australia in 2018.

Of the industries most affected, the transport, postal and warehousing industry had the most deaths with 38, but this does include road accidents.

Farms, which fall under agriculture, forestry and fishing had 37 deaths while the construction industry contributed 24 deaths nation wide.

But digging down into the stats further, it shows that farming deaths are twice as likely than in any other industry.

Statistics per 100,000 workers shows farms come in a 11.2 deaths, compared to the next highest transport workers at 5.9 deaths per 100,000 workers.

State Parliament is currently debating new industrial manslaughter laws which will see employers found guilty of negligence resulting the death of an employee fined up to $16.5 million and potentially jailed for up to 20 years.

But VFF vice president Emma Germano told The Courier on Tuesday that there were too many variables on farms that contributed to more deaths and it should be incumbent on state governments to work on prevention rather than prosecution.

"Those stats are exactly why we are so concerned about manslaughter laws," she said.

"As an industry, our focus is about advocacy, getting mechanisms in place in order to get a cultural shift.

"The farming industry you have constant variables, for starters there's huge amounts of space, you're often working with animals. It's hard to have a standard operating feature around that.

"The biggest risk is people working by themselves for a long time. More often than not we see a farmer put the safety of their employee first before themselves. If someone needs to climb on a roof, generally it's the farmer that does it."

Ms Germano said the possibility of other family being brought through a long court process with the possibility of Industrial Manslaughter charges, after the devastation of losing a family member, was too much.

"No one has a bigger issue with farm fatalities than the farmer themselves," she said.

"Often you are dealing with the death of a family member, there isn't always the traditional role of who is the employer and who is the employee.

"We are not against the intent of the law which is to close a loophole that allows an employer to not be charged with a criminal offence over negligence, but one blanket law does not cover everything.

"A focus on farm safety and effective OH&S practices are critical for every single farm business.

The state government said the proposed laws were wide in scope, but reiterated its view that small and family businesses had existing obligations to provide a safe workplace.

It said prosecutorial discretion would act as a safeguard and it would continue to hold an open dialogue with the VFF once legislation passes.

"This law doesn't change the existing obligation of all employers to keep their workers safe," a government spokesperson said.

The story One law does not fit all, says VFF after farm death figure shock first appeared on The Courier.

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