The annual harvest period has begun in New South Wales’ Riverina region, with warnings from safety regulators after a series of critical incidents.
SafeWork NSW health and safety manager for the Riverina-Murray area, Scott Kidd, explained that there had been an increase in incidents on farms as the improved harvest season saw increased workloads and activity.
“We are seeing people working longer hours, suffering from fatigue and just trying to get ahead after some fairly average seasons in most locations,” he said.
“A spike in activity in agriculture inevitably leads to a spike in serious injuries and, unfortunately, fatalities as well.”
One of those incidents involved a farmer who was baling hay near Marrar. Farmer Adam Symons was completing a routine check on his baler when his hand got caught in the baling mechanism, severing his arm from the elbow.
His friend Nathan McPherson explained that “the way he is, he is a good man, full of character, he jumped in the tractor and drove 400 metres to find the paddock where they were stacking bales to get help.
“The farmer was quick-thinking, and he saved his life by putting something around his arm to stop the bleeding.”
Mr Symons was transported to hospital in Canberra, where surgeons worked to reattach the arm which had been separated for more than three hours.
“It’s a pretty horrific story, he is travelling OK now, and they have somehow managed to put the arm back on. He has got a pulse in his hand and some movement in his fingers, which is a great sign.”
Mc McPherson said it showed just how critical it was for farmers to remain alert to risks at work, particularly when operating machinery. “It just goes to show how careful you have to be around machinery, no matter how long you’ve been doing it,” he said.
In addition to the incident with Mr Symons, there have been two fatalities in the region since harvest season began. One farmer died at Goolgowi near Griffith on October 13 after an incident involving a telehandler, and another died near Leeton on October 8 following an incident involving a tractor.
Mr Kidd explained that all three farmers were experienced workers.
“In these fatal incidents and with the serious injury, we are looking at people aged from 36 to 66,” he said.
“So, people that are very well experienced in the workplace, but also people that have become very familiar and experienced in the workplace and the work they do.
“People need to slow down and make sure they are following processes in place, because every activity has a process that needs to be followed to make sure that they get home safely.”