Western Australia’s WorkSafe Commission Darren Kavanagh will be conducting an inquiry into the state’s agriculture sector following the industry’s 12th work-related death in just 12 months.
In a statement, WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety said that a 24-year-old male died on June 21 between Varley Creek and Lake King in the Great Southern region.
The 24-year-old was moving a bogged vehicle with a tractor when the towing equipment he was using failed—he was struck in the head, causing fatal injuries.
“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,” Kavanagh said.
“Any work-related death is a tragedy, and I offer my sincere condolences to the family of the worker involved in yesterday’s incident.”
Kavanagh added the culture within 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.”
“As the regulator, I have advised the Minister 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 .”
Fatalities in Past Year
Other agriculture related fatalities reported in Western Australia included one on Feb. 8, where an 89-year-old man in Berkshire Valley 200 kilometers north of Perth died after unloading hay from a tractor.
On Dec. 22, 2021, a 72-year-old farmer at Maya in WA’s Mid-West, around 240 kilometers NNE of Perth, died after jump-starting an old tractor where it ended up striking him.
“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,” Kavanagh said in a statement.
Tractors and quads are the main agents causing fatalities since 2001, according to AgHealth Australia.
Nationally, a total of 46 on-farm deaths were reported (pdf) during the period Jan. 1, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2021, according to AgHealth Australia. For 2020, 58 farm fatalities were recorded.
Of the 1632 fatalities recorded from 2001 to Dec. 31, 2021, just over half (50.5 percent or 1,418 cases) were persons over 50 years old; 14.4 percent or 235 cases were children under 15 years old; and 88.2 percent or 1,440 cases were male.
Changes to Increase Farming Industry Safety
Kavanagh has called on industry leaders to reduce fatalities in the farming industry.
“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,” Kavanagh said.
WA Farmers’ chief executive Trevor Whittington added that the recent changes to WA’s industrial manslaughter laws “made it very clear that unless the farming industry adopted far better safety protocols and reduced incidents, moving towards zero fatality, they would start pursuing the industry with much more rigour,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Under section 30A of the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 (WA) (pdf), the maximum penalty for committing industrial manslaughter is 20 years’ imprisonment including a fine of $5 million for an individual and a fine of $10 million for a company.