Stay safe on your farm

Keep your farm a safe place to work


Farming Small Areas How To
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Despite growing awareness surrounding safety, there is still room for much improvement at farm level. Tocal College provide resources to help farms improve.

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Do a thorough safety assessment before beginning any work in confined spaces. Photo by Rodger Clarke.

Do a thorough safety assessment before beginning any work in confined spaces. Photo by Rodger Clarke.

In recent years there have been some improvements in farm safety and management of risks on farms.

Farmers and farm workers are becoming more aware of hazards and developing safer systems of work.

The message on safety with machinery and equipment, livestock handing and chemical handing is bringing about positive changes in all these areas.  

However, there is still a lot of room for improvement as indicated to the statistics in the recent statement from the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety.

The report states that ‘the first six months of 2017 indicates that 32 people have tragically lost their lives in on-farm incidents and a further 101 have been involved in non-fatal incidents that were serious enough to make the media.’

Quad Bikes remain the leading cause of farm death and injury and SafeWork NSW and Victoria are currently offering training and subsidies to improve safety in this area.

A poorly understood area of farm safety is confined spaces.

There have been a number of tragic incidents in recent years with multiple fatalities which have been caused by lack of knowledge of the hazards of a confined space and the correct procedures for managing these.

The majority of serious incidents and confined space fatalities on farms can be tracked back to two main causes:

  • Workers were not trained to recognise a confined space and have entered the space with no knowledge of the hazards; and
  • There was no rescue plan and after the first person got into trouble in the space, other people have rushed in and become victims themselves.
It is prudent to have a 'spotter' when you need to work in confined spaces. Photo by Bill Hanna.

It is prudent to have a 'spotter' when you need to work in confined spaces. Photo by Bill Hanna.

What is a confined space?

A confined space is any enclosed partially enclosed area that:

  • Is not designed or intended primarily to be occupied by a person;
  • Has an atmosphere with low oxygen level;
  • Is contaminated by gas, vapours or dust;
  • Has harmful concentration of airborne contaminants; or
  • Has risk of engulfment by a flowable product.

Some examples of confined spaces you may have on your farm are:

  • Fuel, spray or fertiliser tanks;
  • Feed bins, hoppers, silos, grain handling or cleaning equipment;
  • Milk or wine vats;
  • Wells and water tanks;
  • Pump sites; and
  • Sewage tanks and manure pits.

How do you identify a confined space?

The SafeWork Australia Confined Spaces Code of Practice provides a set of criteria for identifying a confined space:

  • Is the space enclosed or partially enclosed?
  • Is the space not designed or intended to be occupied by a person?
  • Is the space designed or intended to be at normal atmospheric pressure while any person is in the space?
  • Does the space present a risk from:
  1. Harmful airborne contaminants or contaminants that may cause fire or explosion?
  2. An unsafe oxygen level?
  3. Engulfment?

If the answer to any of the first three and at least one of the fourth points is yes, then the space is a confined one.

Be aware of any signage indicating you may be entering a confined space. Photo by Matt Dando.

Be aware of any signage indicating you may be entering a confined space. Photo by Matt Dando.

What should you do to manage confined spaces on farm?

The only effective way to manage the risks posed by confined spaces on farm is to identify all confined spaces on the farm, be adequately trained and have the correct equipment to enter and work in these spaces.  

Fortunately, there are a lot of training programs available and the equipment required to enter and work in a confined space can be hired if necessary.

Tocal College has also produced a practical guide as part of the AgSkills publications series - Confined Spaces.

This publication is the only confined spaces resource written specifically for agriculture and provides you with all of the information needed to identify these hazards on farm.

It is not a substitute for attending a training course, but is an excellent resource to compliment specialised training on entering and working in confined spaces.

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