SAFEFARMS WA faces a busy year ahead helping explain new workplace occupational health and safety (WOH&S) regulations to farmers and their impact on farm businesses.
The new regulations, supporting a proposed Work Health and Safety Act for Western Australia, will have "serious and far-reaching implications for those in the agribusiness industry", HopgoodGanim lawyer and Badgingarra farmer Emma Scotney told a gathering to celebrate SafeFarms WA's 25th anniversary last Friday.
"The importance of having a safety culture on farms cannot be overstated," Ms Scotney said, pointing to significantly increased penalties of up to $2.7 million and five years' jail being proposed for a gross negligence offence and creation of a new offence of industrial manslaughter likely to carry a 20 years' jail maximum penalty.
Ms Scotney and Neil Roberts, chief executive officer to Mines and Petroleum, Energy and Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston, urged farmers and SafeFarms WA to look at an industry consultation package on the proposed new regulations, on the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety website.
"It's important for members of the agricultural industry to have input to this proposed reform, after all, we're the ones who are going to have to comply with it and live with it, so check it out on the website and get involved with your feedback," Ms Scotney advised people at the anniversary celebration.
Mr Roberts also urged farmers and SafeFarms WA to make submissions on the proposed regulations before the consultation period ends on Tuesday, November 26.
The proposed new legislation is to be based on a national model and three sets of regulations are proposed - a general set covering WOH&S for most businesses, including farm enterprises, with specific sets for the mining industry and petroleum and geothermal energy industries.
"A focus of the McGowan government continues to be workplace safety, which includes those working in what is a very important industry to this State, the agriculture sector," Mr Roberts said.
"In the context of the quantum of legislative changes being contemplated, consultation across all industry sectors is going to be vital to make the changes work and work for the benefit of all Western Australians.
"I urge this organisation and others to look at those (consultation) documents and make your submissions so that your positions can be considered.
"The number of serious injuries and deaths in the agricultural sector is far too high," said Mr Roberts, one of the first people notified when there are workplace deaths.
"Statistics do paint a grim picture, over the past 10 years in the (agriculture) sector serious injuries averaged more than 300 a year and sadly, there were 27 workplace-related deaths.
"The State government and the agricultural industry must work together to lessen these traumatic incidents."
Mr Roberts congratulated SafeFarms WA on its 25 years and said Minister Bill Johnston was "impressed" with its involvement in safety education workshops, meetings and training sessions.
He pointed to compliance tools like the safety manual it developed, farm safety checklist emphasising safety of farm equipment and chemicals and induction resources to help employers, employees and contractors comply with safety legislation and establish on-farm safety practises, as having a "positive impact".
"I'm informed that what are regarded as peer-based education programs are much more effective than people coming in and telling you what to do.
"So again, I encourage this organisation, on its 25th anniversary, to participate in the consultation processes to ensure the peer education of farmers by farmers for farmers is an important part of the government's program," he said.
SafeFarms WA chairman and Capel beef cattle and dairy farmer Mike Norton acknowledged an increased workload with the proposed legislation and new WOH&S regulations.
"There is going to be a role for Maree (SafeFarms WA executive officer Maree Gooch) and our team to try and communicate that back to growers to explain what it really means and how it's going to affect your business," Mr Norton said.
"Most farmers think they are bullet proof and really don't need a farm safety program because they're doing it all anyhow and they're doing it right - that is until something goes wrong.
"In the good old days it was tractors that were the biggest killers on farms, now it's quad bikes.
"The problem with quad bikes is they're not only killing and injuring farmers, but killing young kids on farms.
"In WA we've been pretty lucky, we've only had three in the past nine months, but that's three too many."
Mr Norton paid tribute to "both sides of politics" and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development for their support of SafeFarms WA over the years.
Former SafeFarms WA chairmen John McDougal, Esperance and Tony Gooch, Bremer Bay, who were at the anniversary celebration on Friday, said some farm safety issues had not changed since their day.
"I was in the chair for three years from about 2008, we got farmers into high-vis clothing and we had some success getting first responder training going on how to keep people alive until some real help arrived," Mr McDougal said.
"We started off with rollover protection for four-wheel motorbikes, which is still going on and the same people are still making the same noises," he said.
Mr Gooch, who preceded Mr Norton five years ago, also noted rollover protection on quad bikes as a continuing issue.
"I was very pleased to see in the paper this morning that they've finally named a date to legislate over the quad bike issues," Mr Gooch said.
"We fought that (battle) for years and years and there's probably been unnecessary loss of life because of the delays (in introducing roll-over protection)," he said.
Amy Pannell from Rocks Gone Pty Ltd, who was at the anniversary celebration, said her family's business benefitted from being a member of SafeFarms WA and using its resources to alert employees to potential safety issues on farms that they might not encounter in other work environments.
"We use the manual provided by SafeFarms WA for our contracting business (Rocks Gone manufactures the Reefinator and uses it as a contractor to break up rocky ground on farms), it's really easy to use," Ms Pannell said.
"For (machinery operator) inductions it's all done for you and it highlights all these issues of working on farms that you don't think about, like watching for children.
"We employ people who operate heavy machinery but they may not be used to working on farms and having children or animals in their workplace," she said.
Also at the anniversary celebration, Rural Edge (formerly Partners in Grain WA, it changed name and broadened its educational focus earlier this month) chairwoman Bronwyn Fox announced a collaboration with SafeFarms WA to roll out a series of WOH&S workshops across WA.
A trial pilot workshop was held three weeks ago at the CBH Group headquarters, Ms Fox said, with the first workshop scheduled for 9am-3pm tomorrow, Friday, October 18, at the Kojonup Sporting Complex.