THE agriculture industry has recorded the highest number of work-related fatalities for a five year period from 2017- 2022, ahead of the construction and mining industries.
Responding to Farm Weekly's enquiries, WorkSafe records showed that there were 18 work-related fatalities attributed to the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry division for the reporting period, all of which were in the subdivision of agriculture, while the construction industry had 11 deaths and the mining industry had 10 deaths.
The number of deaths in agriculture accounted for 27 per cent of WorkSafe's reporting total and included six fatalities due to a person being hit by a moving object, four fatalities involving a vehicle, two fatalities due to a person falling from a height and one fatality from a person being trapped by moving machinery or equipment.
The sobering statistics come as WorkSafe investigates the work-related death of an 89-year-old farmer at Berkshire Valley, 200 kilometres north of Perth, last Tuesday.
The farmer was reported to have been unloading hay from a tractor when the vehicle slipped into gear and rolled forward, striking him.
WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said it was the ninth death in agriculture workplaces in the past year.
"That figure is not acceptable," Mr Kavanagh said.
"I'm particularly concerned about farmers in the over-60 age group, as six of the nine agriculture workers who have lost their lives over the past year have been in this age group.
"Agriculture is frequently represented in the top three industries for workplace deaths, and there's an increasing need to give greater priority to safety and health.
"I have called upon agriculture industry leaders to increase efforts to change these tragic circumstances in this industry."
The tragedy follows the death of another agricultural worker on January 13.
A shearer died after his arm became trapped in a wool press at a shearing shed at Katrine in the Wheatbelt.
WorkCover WA reported a total of 770 worker compensation claims for the 'Agriculture' and 'Agriculture, forestry and fishing support services' sub-industries for the 2020- 2021 financial year, with the worker compensation claims costing the sector a whopping $30,735,438.
SafeFarms WA executive officer Maree Gooch said underlying that amount was the human element and pain that people went through - physically, emotionally and financially.
"Sadly the fatality rate is growing, it used to be 23pc of workers (from agriculture) in the last census," Ms Gooch said.
"We all need to stop and think about this - why is this happening and even more importantly, why is it increasing?"
Ms Gooch said understanding the psyche of people working in the industry and how they approached risk was key to reducing the number of injuries and fatalities.
"People in the ag industry have historically worked long hours - sun up to sun down and now they are working around the clock in some sectors," Ms Gooch said.
"The human body cannot keep up, so fatigue management is vitally important.
"When people are fatigued they often make mistakes and poor decisions and accidents occur that can be avoided."
With the State's Work Health and Safety Act, due to be enacted in March, to include tougher penalties and possible jail time for those found guilty under the new legislation, Ms Gooch said safety needed to underpin all decision making in the sector and not be "an afterthought, add-on, or a tick and flick when it comes to compliance".
"Under the legislation a serious first offence fine for a worker starts at $50,000 and may include jail time and, if you are part of a business, the fines start at $250,000 with possible jail terms," Ms Gooch said.
Pastoralist and Graziers' Association of WA (PGA) president Tony Seabrook said the accumulative effect of supply chain issues and worker shortages over the past few years had been contributing factors to fatigue-related workplace accidents occurring on farms.
"Farmers are working massively more hours than the broader community and fatigue and haste certainly lead to these accidents," Mr Seabrook said.
"The worker shortages also have a large part to play - I'm over 70 and I'm still putting in probably 75-80 hours a week."
He said the enormous amount of compensation claims in the 2020-2021 financial year was a reflection of what was happening in the sector.
"If people are working tired and in a hurry, there will be a high level of claims and that will also reflect itself in the premiums that farmers are paying for workers compensation or their personal insurance" Mr Seabrook said.
"It's financially in the interest of every farmer to try and create an environment where injuries don't occur, as there's a burden to be borne purely through insurance.
"You're better off putting the money in at the start to put the right safety systems in place than being confronted with not only increased insurance premiums, but also the fines and possible jail time under the new legislation, which is going to look for someone to blame and someone to punish."
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