Mick Debenham has strong views on the need to bolster safety culture around livestock transport at the farm interface. In this column, the former Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association Vice President, and Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria President, sets out the issues involved:
It’s my firm belief that one of the reasons that we continue to see agriculture over-represented in workplace injuries and deaths is that for whatever reason the sector has been given an easy run when it comes to serious enforcement from the authorities.
I also believe that the regulators do not have any experienced staff who understand the complex and difficult tasks that are required to be undertaken in agriculture and are scared to impose improvement notices for fear of being proven wrong, I know that WorkSafe have been successfully challenged on a number of occasions previously.
The other reason is that agriculture is predominately made up of small businesses with no employees, and this isolates them from the obligations that employers have, nor do they belong to an industry association that would be informing them either.
Safety is a culture and even though other sectors still struggle with changing their culture they can’t ignore the ramifications of failing to be seen to protect employees and contractors, especially if unions are involved, take the new workplace manslaughter laws as an example.
Small scale agriculture however doesn’t see these outside pressures and often the contractors who visit as part of their work (stock agents, livestock carriers etc) are reluctant to comment for fear of losing the work and therefore ignore the problems they see on farm, further isolating the sector.
Don’t get me wrong, farmers are wonderful people, many are my friends, but the sector is 20 years behind due to the lack of serious enforcement and awareness about OH&S requirements that other sectors now take for granted.
I recently participated in a working group with Standards Australia to write a new Australian Standard for ‘Livestock loading/unloading ramps and forcing Pens’ and was quite shocked at the negative commentary from the agriculture sector when the standard was released highlighting the ignorance of what a standard is and what pre-existing obligations farmers already had about their duty of care and requirement’s to provide a safe workplace etc.
I understand that agriculture is a risk based enterprise, particularly financial, but while other industries have all but eliminated their controllable risks, agriculture continues to accept all their risks as just a part of business.
The unfortunate reality is that some serious enforcement activity where needed is the only thing that will drive change as it does with all issues. Hopefully the enforcement can be in the form of an improvement request or advice rather than a fine or prosecution after a death!