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Safety of older farmers

As the rural workforce continues ageing – the average age is 55 – there's an increased risk of fatalities and serious injuries.

This is due to the natural effects of:

  • loss of
    • strength
    • eyesight
    • hearing
    • memory
  • an increase in recovery time from strenuous work.

Over a 5 year period, 6768 people were admitted to hospital in NSW as a result of a farm injury. People aged over 55 made up over a third of those injuries.

Typical rural hazards for which older workers should consider the risk are outlined below.

Working alone

Farmers often work alone and in remote or isolated areas. When working alone it could be hours before someone becomes concerned that you have not returned.

Actions to take:

  • always tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be home
  • have an effective communication system available and check in regularly
  • keep a first aid kit handy
  • do not go out to work alone if you are not feeling well.

Quad bikes

Older farmers are at risk of fatal and serious injuries from the operation of quad bikes. The risks of falling off a quad bike are increased with older workers. The seriousness of an incident can be increased by not wearing a helmet.

Actions to take:

  • always wear an approved helmet and other personal protection equipment
  • choose carefully and decide if a quad bike is the most appropriate and safe item of rural plant to be used for the work to be done
  • consider fitting a crush protection device (CPD) to your quad bike
  • always tell someone where you are going and what time you plan to return.

Read more about quad bikes.

Operating tractors and other machinery

Attempting to start a tractor from the ground can result in severe injuries and fatalities. In many cases the tractor has been left in gear which means as it is being started, it will move and potentially drag the user under a wheel.

Other cases have involved older farmers stepping on or off their tractor while it is still moving or when they have stopped their tractor but have not engaged the brake sufficiently and the tractor has moved again after they have stepped off.

There are a number of issues with operating tractors and other machinery, such as:

  • fatigue and discomfort when driving long hours
  • difficulty in turning to look behind the tractor, due to neck and back stiffness or pain
  • climbing up and getting down from tractors and harvesters due to reduced agility and insufficient strength and pain or stiffness
  • changing and attaching implements due to reduced agility and strength
  • opening fuel drums, due to loss of strength and grip.

Actions to take:

  • plan good rest breaks between shorter periods of machinery operation
  • place adequate rear-view mirrors on the tractor
  • ensure fitted seats allow for whole body turn
  • add non-slip surfaces to steps and add grab rails
  • make sure tractor access is outside the line of the rear wheel
  • always wear boots with good gripping soles.

Find out more about tractor safety and other plant, machinery and equipment.

Animal handling

Reaction times often decrease with age, as well as, the loss of agility, therefore working with animals during mustering, drafting, working in yards and husbandry practices can place you at a greater risk of injury.

Consider what tasks that you have to undertake and consider other work practices that segregate yourself from the cattle. Properly constructed yards and races will minimise your direct contact and allow for a low stress environment for both you and the cattle.

Actions to take:

  • avoid working with livestock on your own
  • have mechanical aids available to assist you.

Find out more about animal handling.


Many older farmers are at a greater risk of injury from falls, either on the same level (slipping, tripping or stumbling) or from heights, mainly due to limited flexibility, poor balance, reduced muscle strength and the side affects of some medications.

Actions to take:

  • rest when you are tired
  • install additional grab rails on trucks, tractors, headers and walkways
  • make sure lighting is good, especially where visibility may be poor (e.g. sheds)
  • consider whether an elevating work platform or scaffolding would be safer and more efficient
  • wear footwear that fits well and has good grip
  • install additional steps (e.g. tractor access platform)
  • minimise clutter in work areas and keep pathways clear.

The Australian Centre of Agricultural Health and Safety has developed the Preventing falls for older farmers resource book, which provides practical advice on identifying and preventing falls.

Health and wellbeing

It is important that you maintain a healthy lifestyle and have regular medical check-ups.

Actions to take:

  • rest when you are tired
  • eat well
  • drink plenty of water
  • keep your mind interested and active.

As with all farming activities, inform someone where you will be going, what you will be doing and what time you expect to return.

Look after your health and wellbeing.