Farm death and injury toll rises during harvest

The deaths of two farmers in less than a week and the hospitalisation of two farm workers with life-threatening injuries has prompted WorkSafe to issue an urgent call for those working on farms to remain extra vigilant.
News article published

Tuesday 08 Nov 2011

Industries and topics
  • Agriculture

Three of the incidents in the past week, including a fatality last Monday, involved harvesting or grass-cutting operations.

A 68-year-old man died yesterday when he was run-over by a tractor and slasher he had been repairing near Elmhurst.

Two other men working as contractors near Yarram in South Gippsland and Nalinga near Violet Town were also badly hurt at the weekend when machinery re-activated as blockages were cleared.

The weekend’s incidents follow the death of a man near Nagambie last Monday who was crushed when a hydraulic failure resulted in a slasher coming down on him as he worked to remove tangled wire underneath.

WorkSafe’s General Manager of Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger said the past week built on a tragic year which included nine of the state’s18 work-related deaths happening on farms.

“Our weekend emergency response call-taker said it was the worst weekend he’d experienced in more than 15 years,” she said.

“It is only ythe start of the harvest season and with a bumper crop expected in most regions the dangers often seen in farming will be magnified, particularly if the weather turns and people rush to get crops in.

“Arguably, harvest time is the most dangerous time of year.

There are a variety of pressures and while we don’t believe most people will try to get crops in ‘at all costs’, they need to understand what can go wrong and prepare for it.”

Ms Sturzenegger said things could go wrong for experienced people.

“Just taking the time to think through the problem could make a life or death difference,” she said.

“Safety is about dealing with the potential risks whether you’ve done the job once or a thousand times. It’s about knowing what can go wrong - such as machinery blockages - and knowing what to do about it – safely.”

“The deaths, and there are too many, are the tip of the iceberg. Many incidents, including so-called ‘near-misses’ might also have killed or permantly injured in slightly different circumstances.

The recent incidents come after the launch of a WorkSafe’s statewide ‘Any Day Now’ campaign which reminds people of their obligations to health and safety.

“In all working environments our inspectors find the same problems over and over again. They’re generally basic matters that can be fixed at little or no cost, but if left undone can have devastating consequences,” Ms Sturzenegger said.

For more information on the campaign or information on making businesses safer visit: or call WorkSafe’s advisory service on 1800 136 089.

WorkSafe Victoria’s safety tips for surviving the harvest season

  • If something is blocked or broken, plan the clearance or repair job – turn off the equipment and de-energise it or let the pressure off so it doesn’t spring into action when the blockage is removed. Replace guards.
  • Ensure machinery maintenance (including hydraulics) is up to date. 
  • Keep a phone or other means of communication on you so help can be called if necessary.
  • Let someone know where you’ll be working and when you’re due back.
  • Machinery must only be used for its intended purpose.
  • Be aware of where powerlines are and height of machinery – follow No Go Zone rules (found at
  • Keep children away from machines and areas where work is being carried out.
  • Make sure traffic is kept away from pedestrians, including children.
  • Be aware of fatigue - take regular rest breaks, drink plenty of water, eat nourishing food.
  • Keep the weather forecast in mind. If you’re tarping grain, be aware of the potential for high winds.
  • If working at height, ensure fall protection is in place.
  • Review how heavy lifting work is to be done- for example stacking bales. Ensure it’s done so muscle and bone injuries are prevented.
  • Contractors need to be inducted to the property and consulted about safety issues.
  • Prevent sun exposure and heat exhaustion. Slip, slop, slap is an old rule but a good one.
  • Snakes can be a hazard. Wear appropriate clothing such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts and boots.