Working alone on farms

Farms are among the most dangerous workplaces in Victoria. Reduce the risks by managing working alone on farms.

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Working alone increases your risks

Farmers, whether as employers or self-employed persons, know that agricultural work can be dangerous and that agricultural workplaces have a number of risks.

If people don't know where you are when an accident happens, you may not be found for a long time. You may be trapped, injured and not in a position to help yourself.

Many deaths in Victorian agricultural workplaces are associated with farm machinery. Some of these deaths could have been prevented if the person had received earlier emergency care, and if better emergency procedures were in place.

Working alone on farms - Peter Burgi

Reduce the risk

Often you may not be able to avoid working alone on a farm, but a reliable means of emergency communication and emergency procedures can mean that you can get help quickly if something goes wrong.

Where it’s reasonably practicable, work near others to maintain communication to help reduce the risks.

High risk approach
Working alone without means of emergency contact or an emergency procedure
Medium risk approach
Working alone with an agreed means of emergency contact and an agreed emergency procedure
Lower risk approach
Working alone, but within the same area as others and in constant communication

While operating machinery is particularly dangerous, solo agricultural employees also face additional risks when working:

  • in confined spaces
  • around dams or power lines
  • at height
  • on hot work
  • with farm animals
  • under a machine doing mechanical work or changing heavy equipment tyres
  • with hazardous chemicals

The risks associated with working on a farm must be controlled, so far as is reasonably practicable. For some of these tasks, consider working in pairs or near someone else.

Emergency communication and location systems

Check-in procedures

Check in procedures could involve assigning a designated contact person to be responsible for checking on people who are working alone. For example, they could call or text message every 2 hours.

For self-employed farmers, who work independently most of the time and who don’t have a designated contact person, consider setting up a ‘buddy’ communication system with neighbouring farmers to check on each other several times a day using a mobile or radio.

It is important to tell someone when and where you are working alone. Employers should have a safe system of work and know when and where employees are working alone. If someone fails to return at the specified time or does not respond to a call or text message, people will know where to start searching.

Whatever system is in place, everyone working and living at the workplace needs to clearly understand the procedures and know what to do in an emergency.

Personal locator beacons

Personal locator beacons are similar to emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBS) used on boats, but are designed for use on land, and are small and portable.

Many hikers, trail riders and others who work in wilderness settings carry personal locator beacons. Their primary purpose is to send out a distress signal in an emergency.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority recommends personal locator beacons with a global positioning system, as these can help locate a person more quickly.

It is important to register your personal locator beacon with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Registration is free.

Keep the personal locator beacon with you when working alone and not, for example, on the dashboard of the ute or tractor.

Emergency procedures

When developing a workplace emergency procedure consider how the size and location of the workplace will affect your procedures. Even small farms should consider:

  • using systems, for example a buddy system or a personal locator beacon
  • clearly marking entry and exit points at the site for emergency services
  • obtaining a map of the property that can be sent to the emergency services with phone or email
  • the nature of workplace hazards, and potential risks
  • emergency services contact details being available in a prominent location
  • rehearsal and testing of emergency procedures
  • using safeguards such as high visibility clothing 
  • who should be responsible for notifying emergency service organisations
  • designating and training a first aider in the workplace
  • emergency contact details for people with key roles in an emergency response plan
  • post-incident follow up – who is going to notify the regulator, investigate the incident, organise family, and provide employee support

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors. Where a risk cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable.

The duties of employers include providing the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

Employers must also, so far as reasonably practicable, consult with employees and independent contractors (and health and safety representatives, where applicable) who are or are likely to be affected in relation to certain occupational health and safety matters. This includes when identifying hazards and risks and when making decisions about the controls to address those risks.

Whatever job you and your employees are doing on the farm, always think of safety first.

Consider what could go wrong and how to stop that happening, discuss with your employees and take action to make sure you're providing a safe workplace.

As a farmer you may be self-employed, employ people, or manage and control a farm. Regardless, you have occupational health and safety responsibilities, including:

  • ensuring your farm is a safe working environment without risks to the health of your employees
  • ensuring farm activities don't expose anyone (for example, family, employees, contractors, visitors) to health and safety risks
  • ensuring people can enter and leave the farm safely, and without risk to their health (including people making deliveries on the farm)

More information