Each year many Victorians lose their lives in agricultural workplaces. Often these deaths are associated with working alone.
Working alone increases your risks
Farmers know that agricultural work can be dangerous. When you work alone, the risks increase. 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.
About 75% of deaths in Victorian agricultural workplaces are associated with farm machinery (based on WorkSafe data). Some of these deaths could have been prevented if the person had received earlier emergency care, and if better emergency procedures were in place.
Reduce the risk
Often you need to work 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 you can, working near enough to others to maintain communication helps further reduce the risks.
Working alone without means of emergency contact or an emergency procedure
Working alone with agreed means of emergency contact and an agreed emergency procedure
Working alone, but within the same area as others and in constant communication
While operating machinery is particularly dangerous, solo agricultural workers also face additional risks when working:
in confined spaces
around dams or power lines
on hot work (particularly grinding)
with farm animals
under a machine (doing mechanical work), or changing heavy equipment tyres or running belts
with hazardous chemicals
That's why working alone on farms needs to be managed. For some of these tasks, consider working in pairs.
Some of these types of work (such as working in confined spaces) also have specific legal requirements.
Emergency communication and location systems
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 do call or text message check-ins every 2 hours.
For people such as sole trader farmers, who work independently most of the time and who don’t have a designated contact person, consider setting up a buddy system with neighbouring farmers to check on each other several times a day via mobile phone or radio.
It's important to tell someone where you are working alone. At the very least workers should leave a note in an agreed place stating where they are working and when they expect to return. If someone fails to return at the specified time or doesn't respond to a call or text, 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 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 also important to register it with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Registration is free. You should always keep the personal locator beacon with you when working alone and not, for example, on the dashboard of the ute or tractor.
When developing a workplace emergency procedure consider how the size and location of the workplace will affect your procedures. Even small farms should consider:
provision of information, training and instruction on what to do in an emergency, to relevant employees, contractors and people living in the agricultural workplace
using systems (e.g. buddy, personal locator systems) as previously discussed
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 via 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
introducing safeguards such as high visibility clothing and additional powered plant and machinery guarding
Agricultural workplaces may also want to consider:
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, etc
keeping a record of employee movements around the workplace