Agriculture is one of the most dangerous sectors to work in due to the combination of hazards. These include heavy plant and machinery, chemicals, noise, dust, sun and heat exposure, working with animals as well as the fact many in the industry work alone or in remote locations. Between 2014 and 2018, there were 188 worker fatalities in the Agriculture industry, which is 20 per cent of all worker fatalities over the period. With 69 per cent of fatalities in the sector involving a vehicle including tractors (23 per cent) and quad bikes (15 per cent).
Farm safety is of great importance to ensure that farmers, workers and other people on farm are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. The ‘Best Practice Review of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’ recommended that a new offence of ‘gross negligence causing death’ (also known as industrial manslaughter) be introduced. The offence was introduced in October 2017 and has the effect of extending corporate criminal responsibility to cases where a company’s unwritten rules, policies, work practices or conduct tacitly authorise non-compliance or fail to create a culture of compliance consistent with its responsibilities and duties of care.
It’s important to note that the existing standard of criminal negligence applies to this offence. This means that a person will be found negligent where their conduct so far departs from the standard of care expected to avoid danger to life, health and safety, and the conduct substantially contributed to the death. The Work Health and Safety (WHS) prosecutor is responsible for deciding whether to undertake a prosecution for industrial manslaughter and will consider age, degree of culpability, whether the prosecution would be perceived to be counter-productive to the interests of justice, and the need for deterrence given the prevalence of the alleged offence.
The Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) encourages people working in our sector to be aware of this industrial manslaughter offence and think critically about safety improvement changes that can be made in the workplace. It is up to us to take the few extra seconds to stop and think about the risks that may well prevent another tragic death.