Agriculture work health and safety sector plan

Farming accounts for one in every five worker deaths and by working with peak bodies, associations and community leaders, farmers and farm workers the far reaching impact of these tragedies on close-knit rural families, communities and workplaces can be reduced.

This Agriculture work health and safety sector plan (Agriculture plan) will guide the development of practical initiatives to manage risk and drive down the numbers of people being killed and injured on farms.

Select an image below to view a section of the plan.

Ministers message


The farming sector is critical to the NSW economy. Agricultural production 1 in NSW was worth $12.1 billion in 2014/15, representing close to a quarter (23%) of agricultural production nationally ($53.6 billion). The highest value 2 commodities are cattle and calves ($2.3 billion), closely followed by wheat ($2 billion), and wool ($0.9 billion)*. Approximately 80,900 3 workers were employed in the agriculture, fishing and forestry industry in 2015.

Workers in the agriculture sector are at far greater risk 4 of being killed or injured at work than most. While farmers make up just a small fraction of our total workforce, they make up a large number of workplace deaths and serious injuries. Farms often have the added complexity of being both workplace and home to the families that run them.

Hard work and commitment from peak bodies, associations and community leaders, farmers and farm workers supported by government efforts, has in recent year successfully addressed a number of significant issues within the sector such as deaths from tractor rollovers, improving the quality and safety of agricultural plant, improving silo design, improving shearing shed safety and raising awareness of power take off hazards. Major workers compensation claims and worker deaths have steadily declined 5 over the years however progress has been slow and is now showing signs of plateauing. Too many people continue to be injured and killed on farms, requiring renewed efforts to continue to reduce deaths and serious injuries.

The Agriculture work health and safety sector plan (Agriculture plan) seeks the commitment of industry, supported by the NSW Government through SafeWork NSW, to take responsibility for delivering safer and healthier workplaces. This plan will guide the development of practical initiatives to manage risk and drive down the numbers of people being killed and injured, in turn reducing the far reaching impact these tragedies have on close-knit rural families, communities and workplaces.

In these action areas, this plan identifies what will be progressed to bring about change.

I commend the efforts of those involved in developing this plan and look forward to seeing a collective effort in bringing it to reality.

Matt Kean MP
Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, Member for Hornsby

A priority industry

The agriculture industry is a focus area of the Australian work health and safety strategy 2012- 2022 6 due to the sector’s high rates of death, injury and disease. Farming accounts 7 for one in every five worker deaths while making up just 2.6 per cent of the Australian workforce.

NSW from a national perspective

The true cost of injury and illness may be even higher, as certain diseases can take a long time to appear. Injury and illness also impact families and communities, particularly when children and young people are involved in farming incidents.

Between 8 2010 and 2014, the NSW agriculture sector had the most worker deaths of all Australian states and territories (62 deaths) and the fourth highest fatality rate. The annual cost 9 of injuries was $31 million. Anecdotal evidence suggests that injuries within the industry are significantly underreported meaning this number could be much higher.

Industry consultation and identifying high impact harms

To guide the development of the Agriculture plan, a program of workshops was held with industry representatives and farmers.

Industry determined that the plan should focus on an agreed list of high impact harms including:

  • verifying that the death and injury data reflects the on–farm risk profile
  • identifying emerging issues at the commodity and regional level
  • identifying what practical solutions for farm managers and workers could look like
  • describing strategies to assist farmers achieve a minimum safety standard on all farms (safety landscape)
  • describing what practical regulation looks like for farmers
  • providing ideas as to how SafeWork NSW can better support farmers and farm workers to improve farm safety.

Towards zero

Additionally, there was majority support for focusing on a small number of harms that continue to be over represented in causing fatalities and serious injuries. These include not wearing helmets on quad bikes; tractors without rollover protective structures (ROPs) and unguarded power take-off drives (PTOs) and auger intakes. Industry was clear that the current acceptance of these easily addressed risks does not match the values and attitudes of the modern professional farmer. Action is required to eliminate or significantly reduce these harms. Accordingly work will be undertaken to:

  • make the wearing of helmets on quad bikes an accepted practice
  • fit ROPs to all tractors
  • ensure all PTO drives used on farms are guarded
  • guard all auger intakes.

Current snapshot


The agriculture sector has a higher percentage of major claims resulting in one week or more off work when compared to all industries.10

Common causes of injuries

Hazardous manual tasks, falls and being hit by an animal or object are the most common causes of work related injuries.

Icon of person being hit by a horse


Farm workers and shearers are the occupations that experience higher than average exposure to injury.

Icon of person shearing

20-29 age group

The 20–29 year age group are responsible for 29% of all workers compensation claims.

45-54 age group

The 45–54 year age group experience the highest time away from work due to a work related injury.

Cost of claims

The agriculture sector has a higher average cost for each workers compensation claim when compared to all industries.11

Infographic showing agriculture sector: $24,000 and 47.4%Infographic showing all industries: $17,000 and 38%

Time lost from work

Workers in the agriculture sector experience more time away from work as a result of a workers compensation claim when compared to all NSW industries.12 

Average time away from work
Agriculture8.3 weeks
All other industries7 weeks


45 workers have died in the agriculture sector between 2011 and 2016.13

Vehicles and moving objects

The most prevalent causes of a fatality are vehicle rollover or being hit by a moving object.14

Icon of quad bike

Tractors, equipment and quad bikes

Tractors, agricultural equipment and quad bikes are responsible for the majority of farm related fatalities.15

Icon of tractor

Sheep and beef cattle

The sheep and beef cattle sector continues to suffer the most fatalities.16

Livestock and plant operators

Livestock farmers and plant operators are the most at risk worker type.17

Horse related injuries

In NSW, the highest number of horse related claims for injury resulted from being hit by, or falling from, a horse.18

Icon of person falling from horse

Action area I

The Work health and safety roadmap 2022 (WHS roadmap) 19 first action area incorporates the concept of a health and safety landscape. A landscape is a framework that will guide farmers in putting in place a basic safety management system. This will help keep those working or living on the farm safe. It is designed to be simple, practical and affordable and maximise the value of efforts to improve safety which can be included in your broader farm management plan.

SafeWork NSW will be working closely with the farming sector to develop materials that will guide farming businesses in what a landscape could look like and how to implement such a plan. We commit to working with and supporting the sector to achieve this.

What might a health and safety landscape look like on a farm?

The five elements of the health and safety landscape together with industry-suggested examples are listed below.

Leadership from the top

Farm managers and leaders are always being observed and need to lead by example. They can visibly demonstrate their commitment to safety by doing things like ensuring they wear their helmet when riding quad bikes, taking unsafe machinery out of service immediately until repaired, or encouraging the reporting of safety issues.

Organisational safety capability and practices

The farm has set rules and procedures on how to do things safely which are not deviated from.

Consultation and communication

Farm managers involve workers in discussions about health and safety. Communications are regular, easy to understand and issues followed up.

Safe environment

Farm workers are provided with safe machinery, facilities and protective equipment. Both workers physical health and mental health is considered. Farmers work with their supply chains to buy in the lowest risk products (eg least toxic chemicals)

Worker capability

All workers, particularly those that are new or inexperienced are appropriately trained and supervised to do the job safely.

Improve recovery at work practices

Agriculture sector data indicates that there needs to be improvement in practices to return injured or ill workers back to work quickly in a way that is best for them and the farming enterprise. On average 20, returning injured or ill workers back to work in agriculture is taking longer than most other industries.

SafeWork NSW and industry agree to:

  • increase the awareness and uptake of vocational and equipment and workplace modification programs within the agriculture sector
  • upskill the SafeWork NSW Inspectorate to ensure they are aware of agriculture specific recovery at work solutions
  • upskill medical and allied health providers to understand on and off farm options for returning injured farm workers to work
  • disseminate to farmers case studies that show how recovery at work strategies can be implemented.

SafeWork NSW will:

  • work with the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) to improve practices to support injured or ill workers in returning to work and reducing the costs associated with each claim
  • consider options to recognise farms that implement a safety landscape to acknowledge effort.

We will know we are on track if:

  • time away from work has a decreasing trend
  • the average cost of claims and time lost from injury or illness continues to decrease

Case study

A farm hand was kicked by a cow and sustained a left knee injury whilst at work. Following medical advice it was determined that the worker would need six to eight weeks for recovery and treatment. The insurer engaged a rehabilitation provider to assist the employer to identify suitable duties.  Whilst the worker was unable to complete some of their typical work duties such as shearing, operating the tractor and working with livestock, they were able to return to work within two weeks completing duties such as monitoring and maintaining fences, spraying weeds and lawn maintenance. The worker gradually added more duties as recovery progressed and was back at work completing all the pre-injury duties.

Action area II

The  Roadmap's second action area focuses on key priority areas where the most significant work health and safety risks exist. Consultation with industry identified specific high-risk harms that need to be addressed in farming workplaces and factors that may contribute to poor safety outcomes. There was also agreement to identify and promote resources that are currently working well in all key priority areas, and to share these with industry.

Regional, localised and emerging harms

During industry consultation, regional, localised and emerging risk areas were identified at both the sector and commodity level and included in the list of high impact harms at action area two.

10 key priority areas

Select a priority area below for more information.

Action area III

The Roadmap's third action area commits SafeWork NSW to set an example as a leading regulator to support action areas one and two.

Accordingly, SafeWork NSW will work to ensure that the following is achieved over the next six years:

  • continue to build a customer-focused approach to the way we work with agribusiness
  • build the capability of our frontline officers by partnering with industry on industry based training programs in order to better understand the risks on-farm and provide better advice, assistance and engagement with farmers
  • continue to work with other agencies to improve collection of data and information sharing to inform future harm prevention activities
  • work to better understand the relationship between death and injury rates on farms and the human behaviours and decision making that may contribute to them by applying human centred design principles.

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluating progress helps us to continuously improve and is important to check the effectiveness of strategies. It is also necessary to ensure that the plan is being rolled out as intended and that changes in the reduction of incidents are in line with our targets.

SafeWork NSW and industry will review this sector plan every two years and commit to work together to check its progress, consider changes or new opportunities, and ensure new or commodity specific harms are identified and addressed.

The monitoring and evaluation process will include SafeWork NSW, industry partners and an industry reference group, using a range of measures including data, information from other agencies and stakeholder feedback.


  1. Page 18, 5d, Economic indicators, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  2. Page 18, 5d, Economic indicators, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  3. Page 12, 5b, Economic indicators, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  4. Page 9, Fatalities, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  5. Page 25, 6a, Trend analysis, & Table 35, Page 55, Notifiable fatalities by fatality category, Agriculture, 2011/12 to 2015/16, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  7. Page 64, 7.2, Traumatic injury fatalities, Summary, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  8. Page 65, Figure 11, Fatality rate by Industry, Australia, 2010 to 2014 combined, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  9. Page 8, 3, Executive Summary, Workers compensation claims data, Total adjusted to
    2015/2016 dollar values, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  10. Table 9, Page 27, Agricultural Industry compared to all industries (NSW), 2013/14 to 2015/16, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  11. COGNOS DEIS cube, data as at July 2017
  12. COGNOS DEIS cube, data as at July 2017
  13. Table 38, Page 58, Notifiable fatalities by mechanism of incident, Agriculture, 2011/12 to 2015/16, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  14. Table 38, Page 58, Notifiable fatalities by mechanism of incident, Agriculture, 201/12 to 2015/16 Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  15. Table 39, Page 59, Notifiable fatalities by breakdown agency, Agriculture, 2011/12 to 2015/16, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  16. Page 54, 7.1, Notifiable fatalities 2011/12 to 2015/16, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  17. Page 54, 7.1, Notifiable fatalities 2011/12 to 2015/16, Agriculture Industry Report: SIRA, September 2017
  18. Page 5. SafeWork NSW Code of Practice: Managing risks when new or inexperienced riders or handlers interact with horses in the workplace: February 2017
  20. COGNOS DEIS cube, data as at July 2017

Download a PDF version of this plan