WorkCover NSW is about to launch the third phase of a strategic industry action plan aimed at improving health and safety in the state’s highest risk agricultural sector.

Inspectors are contacting sheep and beef cattle farmers across regional NSW to arrange visits between now and the end of August to help farmers assess and improve safe work systems.

While some farmers will be first-time clients, others have already received a special rebate of up to $2,000 for purchasing or supplementing the cost of health and safety solutions.

Executive Director of WorkCover’s Work Health and Safety Division Peter Dunphy said about 9,500 famers – more than a third of the target industry – had received assistance under the project’s now discontinued rebate scheme.

“That is an extraordinary and unprecedented take-up rate, representing around $18 million in rebates, with more than $30 million invested in actual safety improvements that have helped to improve the industry’s health and safety performance,” Mr Dunphy said. 

“Most of these safety improvements are long-term infrastructure that will not only reduce the risk of injury on farms right now, but also for years to come and future generations.

“We have already seen some significant results in pen and yard improvements, animal restraint and handling devices, animal loading ramps with hand-rail systems, and better sunshade protection.”

The project stems from an industry action plan devised by WorkCover and partners, such as NSW Farmers Association, the Country Women’s Association, Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety, and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

The plan addresses five main areas of concern – working with livestock, quad bikes, tractors and related implements, occupational disease and ‘recover at work’.

Further support is being provided via the successful Alive and Well campaign – featuring real farmers conveying safety messages based on personal experiences to the wider agricultural community – which has its own website;

During forthcoming visits, inspectors will work with farmers to improve safety systems.

Farmers who are visited may be eligible for the $500 Small Business Rebate.

There are about 26,000 workplaces and 14,000 workers in the sheep and beef cattle farming industry and in the three years to 2010/11, workplace injuries and occupational disease have cost the NSW WorkCover scheme around $48 million.

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