Farmer loses his life undertaking dam repair works

WorkSafe is warning farmers and others to be aware of the hazards - sometimes fatal - of working in and around dams.



WorkSafe is investigating an incident in which a dry dam collapsed in on a man undertaking works at its base. The 28-year-old was working alone and was found dead the next day on his farm at Gelantipy, about 50km north of Buchan, in east Gippsland.

The farmer was conducting dam repairs. Dams often need repairing due to:

  • livestock damage
  • yabby damage
  • erosion
  • algal build-up
  • growth of unwanted vegetation
  • retaining wall failure, particularly after a dam has previously been dry

Safety issues

There are many hazards arising from working in and around dams. For example, many farmers will be working alone and in areas that may not have adequate phone coverage. If they get into trouble they have no way to alert someone for help.

People using powered equipment such as bulldozers to conduct clearing work, or who operate vehicles around dams, can encounter risks with dam integrity. There can be issues with vermin-infested dam walls and surrounding areas — a collapse might cause vehicles to bog or roll over.

Other risks arising include:

  • soft and boggy ground trapping people entering dams on foot
  • trapped livestock and boggy conditions presenting unknown dangers when they are being freed

Recommended ways to control risks

To minimise risks working around dams, always have a means of communication such as a mobile phone or UHF radio, and ideally do not work alone.

WorkSafe also recommends:

  • inspection of the environment where working, looking for and avoiding unstable ground and issues such as vermin infestation
  • seeking assistance when recovering bogged equipment and/or animals
  • not entering areas such as trenches that have been excavated or dug out—walls may collapse
  • if working alone, regularly check in with others or have someone follow up with you
  • not entering boggy or soft ground, as some surfaces that appear hard can be soft underneath the 'crust'
  • only using equipment you are competent operating and trained to use
  • reducing the chance of rollover by avoiding driving over slopes and embankments
  • ensuring seatbelts are worn

Legal duties

If your work around dams involves machinery and equipment (plant), there are specific duties and obligations you need to comply with under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017. The Plant compliance code gives you practical guidance on how to comply with those duties and obligations.

Further information