A FATAL accident on a Great Southern farm on Wednesday last week - the 12th farm death in as many months in Western Australia - has sparked a WorkSafe inquiry into the agricultural industry.
Failure of towing equipment as a 24-year-old man attempted to recover a bogged vehicle with a tractor on a farm between Varley Creek and Lake King has been blamed for the man's death.
He was struck in the head, causing fatal injuries.
Within a day WorkSafe Commissioner Darren Kavanagh announced he will conduct an inquiry into deaths in the agricultural industry over the past five years.
"The statistics for the agricultural industry are not acceptable and it is deeply concerning that the number of fatalities in the industry continues to increase," Mr Kavanagh said.
"As the regulator, I have advised the minister (Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan) of my intention to use my powers under the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 to conduct an inquiry into the industry, beginning with examining the tragic deaths of agricultural workers and family members over the past five years.
"The culture in the agriculture industry seems to allow fatal incidents to occur at significantly higher rates than any other industry, with farm production appearing to be put before the safety of families and workers.
"The inquiry will aim to establish how to make changes in safety in the industry and a report will be generated with recommendations on investigations and enforcement for consideration by the State government.
"Any work-related death is a tragedy and I offer my sincere condolences to the family of the worker involved in (last week's) incident."
While Mr Kavanagh's inquiry has been generally welcomed by peak bodies representing the agriculture industry, the timing of his announcement so soon after last week's death has been criticised by some in the industry.
They believe the timing may falsely give an impression the family of the latest victim was not extremely safety conscious and somehow are a target of the inquiry.
"I know the family - not so much the son, but the parents - and I think the media coverage of this (death followed closely by WorkSafe's inquiry announcement) could lead someone to believe that they had no care in safety, which I know is not the case," Sonia Tipton, a Hyden wool handler and shearing contractor with husband Doug, told the Western Australian Shearing Industry Association (WASIA) annual meeting in Belmont on Saturday morning.
A speaker at the WASIA meeting on the topic of implications of the new Work Health and Safety Act, Danielle McNamee, managing director and founder of human resources and occupational health and safety advisor and systems provider ProcessWorx, said she had complained to Mr Kavanagh about the timing of his announcement for the same reason.
"The farmer that died was one of our (ProcessWorx) clients, I know the family very well," Ms McNamee said.
In the context of being proactive safety-conscious farmers, Ms McNamee described them as "the good guys".
"I let the WorkSafe commissioner know immediately that they were one of our clients and indicated the standard of what we provide them and that I was incredibly upset because they are the good guys," she said.
"They have engaged with us on safety for years, I have spoken at length to (the parents).
"I honestly believe because of everything they have done, that puts them in a very strong position.
"But I do believe the press (coverage) was very poor.
"I also communicated to the commissioner that I thought they had announced the inquiry too quickly.
"They announced the inquiry the next day, which was very upsetting because it looked like it was about them.
"The inquiry isn't about them, it just looks that way."
Ms McNamee said under the new Work Health and Safety Act it was now mandatory for anyone or any company advising a farmer on occupational health and safety to be investigated as part of any WorkSafe investigation, in the event of a death or reportable accident.
This change with the new legislation had seen "a lot of advisers leaving the industry", she said.
"We (ProcessWorx) will be investigated (by the WorkSafe inquiry) as part of the process - it's now standard in the act - and we can be prosecuted," Ms McNamee said.
"There is no doubt there will be a really big focus on safety in agriculture with this inquiry.
"I spoke to him (Mr Kavanagh) about the incident and he basically said to me 'we're fed up, we've got to stop accidents in agriculture'."
Ms McNamee told the meeting new definitions for businesses and representatives of businesses in the legislation, ultimately made farmers responsible for the occupational health and safety of anyone working on their farm, irrespective of whether they were employed by a contractor, were a contractor or were a direct employee.
WAFarmers president John Hassell welcomed the WorkSafe inquiry into deaths in agriculture.
"Every one of those 12 deaths in agriculture was a tragedy," Mr Hassell said.
"I'm really happy there is going to be an inquiry if it gets us better outcomes.
"I don't want it to be a witch-hunt, but if it leads to greater awareness of the potential dangers and better procedures to keep everyone safe, then that would be a good outcome.
"I can remember when I was at Muresk nearly 40 years ago, we were lectured on all of the dangers you could find on a farm and the everyday things that could bite you if you weren't careful.
"Back in those days a lot of it was to do with windmills, so I went out and bought myself a safety harness.
"There are so many different jobs on a farm and they can change from day-to-day and from season-to-season, so awareness of the safety risks involved with each of those jobs and the equipment involved is vital.
"Hopefully an inquiry can lead to better documenting of the risks and a greater awareness."
Former shearer and WA policeman, founder of Top Gun Shearing Supplies and member of a famous contemporary shearing family, Noel Lawrence said any inquiry into safety in agriculture was "a good idea".
However, he added a proviso that an inquiry was welcome provided WorkSafe "actually talked to the right people in the industry".
Mr Lawrence's younger brother Geoffrey, 62, was killed on a farm near Clackline in January when he was caught in a woolpress.
His death was one of the 12 on farms in the past year to be investigated by the WorkSafe inquiry.
Two of his brothers, Sports Shear Australia president David Lawrence and former WA Competition Shearing Association president for 10 years Kevin Lawrence, were shearing within metres of him.
"If David or Kevin had thought the press Geoff was using was unsafe in any way, they would have shouted that from the rooftop," Mr Lawrence said.
"It was Geoff himself who bought that press for the farmer about five or six years ago.
"It's an old press, there was never a safety guard made for it and no safety guard was approved for it.
"It was just an unfortunate accident."
Mr Lawrence said his brother, a good 200-a-day shearer, had been shearing and working with wool presses for 45 years.
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