As small business owners operating a family business the compliance expectations appear onerous at times.
Terms like OH&S and WH&S seem overbearing.
Add the signage and documentation requirements and it all gets too much.
If you have no employees then it doesn’t make sense that you need all that paperwork because there is no-one to give it to. What happened to personal responsibility? Surely common sense around safety should prevail.
Like other families, these are the discussions we had many times sitting around the dining table. That was until January 2012.
I was returning with my mother-in-law and children from an outing at another property. Interestingly, we passed an ambulance on our lonely road. It was heading into town. But it did not have its lights or siren on.
I remember commenting that is couldn’t be a bad call out because it was not speeding. I remember the sense of relief I felt. As I dropped my mother-in-law home my husband was standing in the carport waiting for us. Unfortunately, in an instant my father-in-law had become another statistic.
The ambulance was empty because the injuries were so severe, a chopper was needed to get him to town. A simple accident in the cattle yards. No-one was at fault.
My father-in-law was following a young bull through the drafting yards when it got spooked and turned to run past him. On the way past it stood on his toe as he was stepping back causing him to fall to the ground and land the wrong way. He was knocked out and, with no other injuries, there seemed to be hope.
What we did not know until later was that his fall broke his brain stem. This man was a father, grandpop, brother, neighbour, friend and much more.
We were grieving. But there was another family also suffering. You see the accident did not occur on our property. It was school holidays and our neighbour’s family were all down at their yards.
Everyone of them witnessed the incident. They had to perform the initial first aid. Other neighbours were called up on the two-way to help make contact with the emergency services. Word was spreading. The ripple became a wave.
But dealing with the grief was just the start.
My husband was interviewed by the police at the hospital and said it was simply a tragic accident but not in any way the fault of our neighbours.
Officially this was still a workplace accident.
Our neighbours were interviewed and their systems investigated. Fortunately, they had a Workplace Health and Safety Manual and detailed diary entries.
It didn’t mean they were not visited by Farm Safety officers and their systems reviewed, but it did mean the process was a lot easier than it could have been.
Remember, they were grieving too. Imagine if they didn’t have a system in place to demonstrate their commitment to safety.
The potential cost
In rural workplaces people use various plant and machinery and undertake activities that may cause death, serious injury or disease. Australian farms are often run by families. Accidents can therefore be especially traumatic.
Landholders can be fined, have civil action taken against them and potentially lose their farm. Financial loss is one thing. Losing a member of your family or community is devastating. Ask yourself how would your family cope if you were killed or injured?
In the September after my father-in-law died my husband broke his neck when he rolled a four-wheeler while mustering. We had planned for the worst and he had an accident policy that paid him a wage while he recovered. But again, it caused us to review our work practices. Laneways have been built on all our properties. Mustering is now heavily reliant on helicopters and 2 wheel motorbikes. Four-wheelers are no longer used. Accidents and injuries are not popular topics. We all like to think we are invincible. Unfortunately nothing is guaranteed.
The following Easter after my husband’s accident our son was riding his motorbike along a fenceline. A stray bit of wire got caught in his wheel and he was thrown from the bike. The fact he was wearing a helmet and neckbrace was praised by the medical team. Nothing however, could prevent his spleen from shattering and, by the time they operated, one-third of his blood was sloshing around in his stomach. He spent two nights in the ICU after his emergency splenectomy. We consider ourselves very lucky that both made a full recovery.
Life can throw you curveballs. None of these accidents were caused by reckless behaviour. We know everyday primary producers are making risk assessments as they go about their work. Sadly, bad things happen to good people. As property owners with significant assets to protect we also know that we must put our business hat on when managing our safety risks.
Sadly, bad things happen to good people. As property owners with significant assets to protect we also know that we must put our business hat on when managing our safety risks.
Demonstrate your safety commitment
You must provide a safe environment for your family, staff, contractors and any visitors to your property. The codes of practice for rural industries apply to anyone who is legally identifiable as having a duty of care. So you may not have any staff but you do interact with other people. Any one of them (or you) could have an accident on your property.
Every rural workplace should have documented WH&S procedures and policies. The legislation has been around for a long time but amendments occur on a regular basis. For example, in Queensland the onus is now on you, as the landowner, to prove you are not guilty if an accident occurs in your workplace.
It is not possible to feign ignorance when things go wrong and then expect a positive outcome. While documented procedures are recommended, there are other, simple things that can be done. The importance of a diary as an invaluable management tool cannot be understated.
Safe work instructions, notes on repairs to be done or comments about conversations all help to prove your commitment to safety. Phone numbers and emergency contact details should be kept in all vehicles. Training registers and current first aid certificates are other good examples of how farmers can demonstrate their compliance with WH&S legislation.
Accidents are not planned or intended events. Unfortunately, if you live on a farm the odds are not good that you won’t be impacted. It makes sense to plan, take proactive steps to reduce risk, and document your practices.
If in doubt think about what you have to lose.
– Brigid Price is an organic beef producer based in Central Queensland. She is also the founder of Rural Resources Online
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