Industry has questions over government’s farm safety summit

Michael TraillGreat Southern Herald
WAFarmers chief executive Trevor Whittington.
Camera IconWAFarmers chief executive Trevor Whittington. Credit: Mogens Johansen

The State Government last week declared its “urgent” Farm Safety Summit a success, but questions remain for agricultural industry bodies.

Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston and Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan said they were pleased with the outcomes of the summit, held on Wednesday last week at Dumas House.

On May 11, both ministers issued invites to industry groups, with Mr Johnston saying the agricultural industry was “10 times more dangerous than the mining industry”.

“The high number of workplace deaths is unacceptable, but what shocks me the most is that agriculture has far more fatalities than any other industry, including construction and mining,” he said after the summit.

“Safety in WA’s agriculture is a serious issue and it’s more important than ever that government and industry work together to improve workplace safety.

“At the summit, we agreed that to improve workplace safety requires a cultural change and I understand this will be difficult to do, but it is achievable.”

The State Government has recorded 28 work-related deaths in the agriculture sector in 10 years leading up to the 2018-19 financial year.

WAFarmers chief executive Trevor Whittington said industry groups at the summit, including the Shearing Industry Association, Farm Machinery & Industry Association, and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, were still looking for clarity on how statistics were being recorded.

Mr Whittington said he wanted some clear boundaries on what was classified as a commercial farm.

He said a high percentage of farm safety issues came from hobby farms run by operators with old machinery and little training.

He applauded the ministers for their constructive approach in bringing the industry to the table.

But he called for restraint when it came to legislation being used to force change in farm safety culture. Instead, Mr Whittington suggested the Government introduce a public awareness farm-safety campaign, similar to those developed for anti-smoking and healthy eating initiatives.

“What the members don’t want to see is government using heavy hands of the law to try and make compliance, increasing penalties to drive outcomes, because that doesn’t work,” he said.

Farmsafe WA chief executive Maree Gooch said local governments could have a role to play in improving farm safety.

Ms Gooch said money invested into farm safety, from both industry and government, was dwarfed by the funding pumped into the mining sector.

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