The high cost of preventable farm accidents

4th Jul 2019

Farm accidents are devastating for both victims and farm owners, particularly when they can be avoided by complying with workplace health and safety laws.

With workers’ lives potentially at stake, it’s imperative for farm owners and farm workers to understand their workplace safety rights and obligations and ensure that they are protected.

Dire consequences of ignoring safe work practices on farms

A farm in western NSW recently had to pay a $180,000 fine after contractor, Ethan Staker, aged 20, was fatally injured in a farm accident while riding a motorbike without a helmet. (See SafeWork NSW v KD & JD Westbrook Pty Ltd [2018] NSWDC 255 and SafeWork NSW v KD & JD Westbrook Pty Ltd (No 2) [2019] NSWDC 15.)

SafeWork NSW launched the court action, saying the farm failed in its duty of health and safety under s32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth).

Handing down his judgment in the District Court, the judge said: ‘The risk of serious injury or death as a result of a fall from or a collision involving a motorcycle was a foreseeable one. There were occasions when the musterers would ride their motorcycles at speeds of up to 80kph and that increased the risk and the gravity of the likely consequences.’

The judge also stated: ‘If he had been required to wear a helmet he would not have sustained the skull fractures, which were capable of causing his death.’

Substantial penalties handed down to farm after forklift accident

In another case, a family-owned farm had to pay $80,000 in penalties when a female contractor was injured in a forklift accident. The forklift struck the farm worker from behind as she walked down a corridor that she was required to use to access a room. The worker sustained a fractured pelvis, dislocated shoulder, bruising and scarring. As a result of her injuries, she was unable to continue working.

The court found the farm guilty of failing to take reasonable steps to provide a safe workplace with a traffic management plan that would separate the forklift from workers.

In a statement issued by WorkSafe Victoria, Executive Director of Health and Safety, Julie Nielsen, said: ‘Like all workers, contractors have every right to return home safely at the end of the day, so employers must ensure they are provided with a safe working environment.’

Compounding effect of continually failing to comply with workplace safety

This particular farm had already experienced a number of workplace accidents, including an incident where a worker had stepped into an open drain base, as well as an accident where a worker had been run over by a seeding machine.

The farm was ordered to pay compensation to each injured worker and also ordered to pay a total combined fine of $85,000.

These farm accidents could have been avoided if the employer had acted swiftly in auditing workplace safety measures and implementing any necessary changes.

Forklift safety needs to be a priority for Australian businesses

SafeWork NSW recently released a Forklift Safety Statement, where it highlighted a number of recent forklift accidents. These included a forklift driver being crushed to death when his machine overturned, a farm worker killed when he fell from a steel cage being lifted on the tines of a forklift, and a young female factory worker receiving massive internal injuries after being hit by a forklift.

SafeWork reports that 1,300 workers were injured in forklift accidents over the two years leading up to July 2016, with inspectors handing improvement notices to half of the 180 businesses they checked.

Avoiding the short and long-term costs of farm accidents

It’s important that injured workers receive proper compensation for injuries that can affect their lives for years. They should also ensure that they investigate whether they are entitled to compensation for loss of income as a result of the accident.

Employers have a duty of care to workers and need to conduct regular workplace safety audits, identify any risks and make necessary safety improvements. Failure to do so can result in serious and sometimes fatal injuries, as well as court-imposed penalties and victim compensation.

A version of this article first appeared on the Stacks Law Firm website, and can be found here.

Justin Stack is a personal injury lawyer at Stacks Law Firm, practising in Taree. Justin specialises in compensation law for individuals, conducting matters for clients in NSW and interstate. His expertise lies in handling major catastrophic claims arising from motor vehicle accidents and work accidents, and in conducting public liability and occupiers’ liability cases. He also deals with total and permanent disability claims on superannuation policies. Justin has often conducted matters for non-English speaking clients, sometimes with the aid of an interpreter. He often travels to clients who have difficulty travelling to his office in Taree.

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

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Tags: Compensation NSW Workers' rights Workers compensation Personal Injury Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) Justin Stack workplace injury