31 Jan

Taking the Bull by the Horns: Agriculture Finally Faces Up to WH&S Obligations

Image: Working in agriculture poses the highest risk factor for Australian workers. Image: Rustic Farm by Marvin10 from pixabay, available through a CC0 license.

A new focus on safety and risk by agricultural companies signals a change in attitude towards workplace health and safety.

Australian agriculture has one of the worst safety records with a 2016 report citing 14.8 fatalities per 100,000 workers, double the fatality rate of any other industry.

Despite the traditionally casual approach to safety in agriculture, a recent increase in the hiring of risk management specialists is proof that attitudes in the industry are starting to change.

‘Over the past five years we’ve seen a greater emphasis on safety within human resources and operations management roles’, said Geoff Lucas, CEO of The Lucas Group.

‘More recently, we’ve been engaged by clients to identify candidates to specifically manage WH&S, this shows that agricultural corporations are focussing more on compliance and risk management’.

Mr Lucas believes that candidates who have cut their teeth on safety in other industries bring a new set of skills and experience to agriculture.

‘They come from highly compliant environments such as mining and construction, which provides agricultural businesses highly trained staff who are able to offer a new perspective on a range of safety and risk management systems’, said Mr Lucas.

Reputational Risk

In addition to protecting workers from being harmed, the growing trend towards a focus on on-farm safety stems from a need to protect the reputation of the industry for the benefit of potential investors.

According to Kim Morrison, a senior executive with Blue Sky Alternative Investments, agriculture’s traditionally poor safety record is a big turn off for superannuation investors.

‘Reputational risk is a big issue for these super funds. They don’t want to be on the front page of the newspaper for the wrong reasons,’ he said.

‘Unless you can illustrate best practice and show you are doing the training and investing in this, it’s simply not going to qualify for institutional investment’.

A New Appointment

Hancock Farmland Services Australia has joined the growing band of safety-conscious companies having recently created a dedicated safety and risk position.

The newly appointed Health, Safety, Environment and Risk Manager will be responsible for minimising WH&S risks and incidents across the company’s almond holdings.

According to the Hanock’s Managing Director Andrew Strahley, the position was created to further improve the company’s culture of improved safety.

‘[We want] to continuously develop the company’s health and safety strategy and manage the delivery of initiatives associated with that strategy’, said Mr Strahley.

The appointment of the new health, safety, environment and risk management resulted in a candidate selection process managed by The Lucas Group.

Managing the Transition

Independent work health and safety consultant Alex Thomas cautions that WHS models from other industries need to be adapted to suit agriculture and agribusiness entities.

‘It’s important to acknowledge the intent of legislation – which is simply to prevent someone from being killed or seriously injured. WHS practitioners that have come from other industries are often inclined to take a more bureaucratic approach – which can easily detract from the practical management of critical risks’, she said.

According to Ms Thomas, farmers can make efficiency gains in WHS by implementing cultural change.

‘The best catalyst for making positive changes to work health and safety is to engage with your workers and to lead by example. Business owners do not necessarily need to fork out in order to improve the safety of their workers’.

Sources: The Weekly Times