Take a break to fight farm fatigue

Victorian farmers are being encouraged to put their safety first and take the breaks they deserve to avoid pushing themselves beyond their limits.


As part of National Farm Safety Week, which runs from July 20-25, WorkSafe is supporting farmers and farm workers to make well-earned breaks part of their daily routine to avoid fatigue.

Agriculture continues to be overly represented in workplace fatalities; farms employ just two per cent of the Victorian workforce, but accounted for one in seven workplace fatalities in 2019/20.

The nature of agriculture can put workers at risk of fatigue – lack of sleep in busy periods such as harvest, intense work and exposure to extreme hot and cold temperatures can all lead to fatigue.

Signs of fatigue include slower reaction times, poor concentration, making mistakes, poor coordination, irritability, lack of energy, frequent colds, headaches and dizziness and nodding off or micro sleeps.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said fatigue went beyond just feeling drowsy.

"It's about pushing our bodies beyond their mental and physical limits day after day, with no time to recover," she said.

"When you think this could be someone operating heavy machinery or dealing with unpredictable livestock, the consequences of fatigue can be deadly."

Strategies such as increasing water intake, taking breaks when possible and planning ahead to have extra help during busier times can all help avoid fatigue. Prioritising sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and limiting caffeine and alcohol can also set the body up for a good night's rest.

"Taking a break throughout the day helps keep minds and bodies sharp, and at night we need sleep to regenerate and repair. Without this we can't function effectively and productively," Ms Nielsen said.

AFL footballer and beef farmer Ben Cunnington, who grew up on a dairy farm in Victoria's south-west, is featuring in a WorkSafe video encouraging other people in agriculture to make time for a break.

"We're setting the farm up and it is hard work and it has been big hours," he said of establishing his beef herd.

"It's important to take a break from farm work, especially when you're working with big animals, big machines and the varieties that farming life brings."

Alongside the Fatigue on the Farm information, WorkSafe is launching the Safe-tea break initiative to encourage farmers to commit to regular breaks.

The initiative, launched on the Country Club Challenge Facebook page, includes Safe-tea break packs that include a thermos, box of Yarra Valley tea, cooler bag and interactive fridge magnet and pen to communicate break times and working location.

The initiative also includes a competition where farmers can send a photo or short video of their Safe-tea break and go in the draw to win a year's supply of Yarra Valley tea.

Agriculture safety facts:

  • There were nine deaths on farms in the 2019/20 financial year, an increase from five in 2018/19.
  • Agricultural sectors associated with livestock made up 76 per cent of injury claims in the industry in the 10 years to June 30, 2019.
  • Vehicles were involved in 79 per cent of on-farm deaths recorded in the past decade. Of these, 53 per cent involved tractors and 18 per cent involved quad bikes and ATVs.