As someone personally impacted by farming accidents, I know the importance of a WH&S policy and procedures. I asked a friend who once worked as a workplace health and safety inspector to help simplify the important things Queensland farmers need to know about WH&S.

The harsh facts about a landholders’ duty of care

Queensland farmers wanting to ensure compliance with legislative requirements are often overwhelmed.

A landowner’s duty of care to make sure staff, visitors and family members are safe goes beyond workplace health and safety laws.  Of course, no-one wants to be responsible for putting someone else at risk.

But here is the reality…

Unfortunately, common sense does not always prevail.  When an individual makes the wrong choice, the result can be tragic. When this occurs, the property owner will be investigated. For this reason farms need documented procedures.

In the unfortunate event of an accident, investigators will need to ask invasive questions about the management practices of the business involved.

Bridgette Elsley, a former Inspector from WHSQ explains that help is available.

What is the difference between WorkCover and Workplace Health and Safety Inspectors?

Bridgette puts it simply: “In Queensland if you think of WorkCover as an insurance agency and WHSQ as the regulator, you cannot go too far wrong”.  

“There are differences in the definition of a worker in the separate pieces of legislation.  WHSQ has nothing to do with rehabilitation and return to work other than to make sure you a have policy and process.”    

If my contractor has an ABN does that mean that I do not have to include them in my worker’s compensation calculations?

“This is an issue to be addressed with WorkCover, there are some instances where a contractor will be a worker and other times they will not be.  

“For the purposes of WHSQ and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, a contractor is a worker and your obligations will apply.  However, the definition of a worker in the Worker’s Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 is different.  Ring WorkCover and ask to speak to the agricultural team (these people have knowledge of the rural industry) and they can advise you accordingly.”

I don’t have any staff so what is the minimum I need to do to be compliant?

“Your obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 extend to unpaid workers and, at times, visitors to your property, for example a DAF officer providing soil testing services.  It is recommended that all companies have a very basic Farm Safety Management System.  Serious About Farm Safety will provide an employer with a basic system.”

Where do I find out what the minimum standard requirements are in relation to my WHS requirements?

“At the website, or our department (WHSQ) and ask to speak to a rural inspector or the agricultural unit on 1300 362 128.  There are rural Inspectors throughout the state that are here to help, along with small business advisors who can assess your property and help you to set up the appropriate system for your operation.”

How much WH&S training should producers give their staff?

“As an employer, you have a legal obligation to make sure your staff are trained to do their jobs safely.

“A training register should be used to record staff training. Training systems must be designed to ensure your workplace is safe for you, your staff and any visitors or clients. Specific job training is required for some industries.

“Employers must ensure induction training and refresher training is provide where necessary. If you purchase new equipment, change processes or modify work environments, you must update your training.

“Remember to keep a record of any training your staff complete.”

What about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

“Your staff must be trained to use PPE.  Training ensures staff know how to keep safe while wearing PPE doing their job. Training should cover topics such as using, storing and maintaining their PPE.”

What injuries or incidents must be reported?

“The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 states that: ‘An incident is notifiable if it arises out of the conduct of a business or undertaking, and results in the death, serious injury or serious illness of a person or involves a dangerous incident’.”

What is the safety procedure if an incident occurs on the farm?

“If a serious incident occurs, the first thing to do is provide the necessary first aid. But remember… The word safety must be at the forefront of everything you do. For example, if there is a crush injury from a fallen tree limb, then remove the limb to perform first aid but make sure the area is safe. Make sure the limb can’t roll any further.”

What exactly does ‘legal obligation to provide a safe place of work, safe systems of work and how to use plant equipment safely’ mean?

“A safe place work on a farm can be quite difficult to define. However, if you know that there is something on your property then you have an obligation to control that risk.”  

So what about a cranky bull and a broken fence?

“If you know there is a risk to the worker from the bull you have a legal obligation to ensure they are not attacked by the bull. The other area to be aware of is inherent risk. Your business must have rules of use for items that have a potential risk if used incorrectly.

“Farms with quad bikes must have training and instruction on the use of these vehicles. Employers must provide verbal and documented instructions known as safe work procedures. To prove you did this, the details of the training must be recorded in a training register.

“Faulty or damaged plant and/or machinery must also be managed. Either get rid of it, repair it or replace the item. As an employer you must provide safe plant and machinery.”

What are the implications for employers found negligent with regards to WHS in the workplace?

“A worst case scenario from the inspectorate point of view is a prosecution.  There is also a civil prosecution possibility.  But the mental stress of either hurting someone or worse if far greater than any court-imposed sanction.”  

How complicated must the system be to identify hazards, assess the risks and put a WH&S procedure in place?

“A WH&S system doesn’t have to be complicated. You simply have to be able to demonstrate your commitment to safety. Keep it simple. Record important details in your work diary. Remember most people in the rural industry do risk assessments in their heads every day, but it is important to formalise this process.

“My recommendation is to set up a workplace health and safety system with an overarching policy and easy-to-follow procedures. A great way to do this is by downloading the resources in our hub and personalise them for your business.”