by Dr Susan Brumby
Across Australia 27% of all workplace fatalities occur in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries and yet they make up less than 3% of the total workforce(1). Despite a variety of programs to address this tragedy, the rate has not changed significantly over the last decade despite substantial improvements being made in other occupations such as mining and construction.
But it’s not just higher rates of workplace deaths. Shorter life expectancy and poor health outcomes compared to metropolitan populations appear an accepted risk of rural and agricultural life. Research suggests higher rates of preventable conditions such as cardiovascular disease, injury, diabetes, suicide, loss of hearing, some cancers and less access to services as the cause for shorter life expectancy(2).
Is farmer health a new problem?
This isn’t a new problem. Farmer health was an issue when the father of Occupational Medicine, Bernardino Ramazzini wrote his seminal work Diseases in Workers back in 1713(3). Few programs— nationally or globally —focus exclusively on the health, wellbeing and safety of farmers. The national Safe Work and state based WorkSafe organisations recognise agriculture as a high priority sector focusing on prevention of workplace fatalities and injuries. Various mental health organisations have a specific focus on rural/farming communities, particularly males where suicides remain high. There are also initiatives that focus on building the social capacity and resilience of rural and regional communities and government incentives to attract medical staff to our rural and regional areas. All of these are aiming to address the health, wellbeing and safety of farmers and agricultural workers.
Walking in their shoes
Farming men and women trust health and rural professionals who know farming realities and the type of workplace that farms are. Numerous studies have reported this. Being able to empathise and engage with farmers and agricultural workers is easier when you have walked in their shoes.
Farm Safety Week across the globe | 20-25 July 2020
This week is Farm Safety Week. Over the next 5 weeks I am going to release a weekly infographic on a farmer health matter that we believe is important.
Our hope at the National Centre for Farmer Health is that farmers and rural and health professionals find the infographics a handy reminder to always consider farmer health and not just during farm safety week.
- SAFE WORK AUSTRALIA 2019. Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities, Australia 2018. Canberra: Safe Work Australia
- AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF HEALTH AND WELFARE 2019. Rural & remote health. Cat. no. PHE 255 Canberra: AIHW.
- RAMAZZINI, B. 1949. De Morbis Artificum Bernardini Ramazzini Diatriba (The diseases of workers). The Latin text of 1713 revised, with translation and notes by Wilmer Cave Wright. The History of Medicine Series. Chicago:: University of Chicago Press issued under the auspices of the Library of the New York Academy of Medicine.