In the past three years, five people have lost their lives in electrical incidents on Queensland farms, with nearly 50 per cent of hospital admissions for electrical related injuries coming from outer regional or remote locations.
A recent industry forum involving senior representatives of agricultural industry bodies, equipment suppliers, insurers, country women, electricity network operators, academia and government looked at why these electrical incidents continue to happen and what can be done to prevent them.
Electrical incidents on rural properties are most often caused by machinery and equipment contacting overhead powerlines, equipment and wiring not being maintained to appropriate standards and life-saving safety switches not installed on all circuits.
However, representatives at the forum were clear that the agricultural industry is diverse and faces many unique challenges. One-size fits all approaches and more bureaucracy is not what industry needs. Electrical safety and workplace health and safety management needs to be practical, focused on prioritising the most serious risks, and integrated into business.
Queensland's Electrical Safety Office Executive Director Victoria Thomson said they were keen to work with farmers to make electrical safety part of their business plan.
"We want to focus on practical solutions to minimise risk as you don't get a second chance at times so it is a matter of working with industry to better integrate electrical safety as a part of how they do business," Ms Thomson said.
Representatives from Maryborough Sugar, John Deere and Aerial Applicators Association of Australia spoke to the forum about how they are embracing leadership to improve business productivity and save lives.
Following the forum, a working group agreed to develop a clear strategy to turn around the statistics. The first steps will include sharing electrical incident data across government, industry and electricity entities, stocktaking existing information products and identifying any gaps, and publicising examples of good industry practice.
In the meantime, simple actions which all farmers can take now to improve the safety of themselves, their families and their workers include:
- moving irrigation pipes, machinery and other large items away from under overhead electricity lines
- asking Ergon Energy for free safety advice about electricity lines and poles on the farm. Ergon Energy can provide free 'Look up and live' advice and products, prices for line markers and their installation, advice on painting power poles and stays, and property maps showing electrical infrastructure
- checking electrical equipment before use and disposing of defective items
- employing an electrician to inspect their home and farm, and asking them to install safety switches on all circuits.
Actions industry associations can take include:
- proactively encouraging their members to work within the published guidelines for operating farm equipment under and around powerlines
- proactively promoting desired practices using practical, easy to follow, guidance.
For more information on working safely in the agriculture industry, visit worksafe.qld.gov.au/agriculture.