By WAFarmers President Tony York
With harvest in full swing across WA, now is a good time to reflect on the hazards involved in farming and the added risk of injury during periods of intense work.
With many farmers working long hours and the additional hazards of being around large and complex machinery involved in harvest, I implore you to please take care, be aware of your surroundings, take your time, and consider the additional risks that we, as farmers, are all exposed to during this exciting and strenuous period. This is not only for the physical safety and mental wellbeing of you and your employees, but also for the benefit of the bottom line of your business.
In my own business, my family and I have experienced a long period of rehabilitation and a workers compensation claim for over 15 months for one of our staff members. A relatively innocuous workplace accident resulted in a permanent shoulder injury, which prevented our employee from returning to work for us and having a permanent impairment paid out. While this may not be considered an unusual injury given the physical nature of farming, it has amounted to several hundred thousand dollars in compensation costs, and some consequences for our business workers’ compensation premiums.
This experience has given our business cause to closely examine the workers compensation schedule and how it applies. The grain and sheep farming rate has a gazetted compulsory rate of 5.81 per cent of wages and a capacity for an insurance company to increase or decrease this rate by 75 per cent depending on the individual’s claim history. If the insurance company wishes, they may take the premium even higher, subject to arbitration and appeal.
In the case of our business, discussions started at an indicative rate of just over 20 per cent of our wages; definitely a high enough rate to make you sit up and take an interest in your premiums. Negotiations then concluded with us being ‘grateful’ that we had settled on only the 75 per cent loading, which equated to 10.17 per cent of our gross wages going forward.
Have a careful look at the gazetted industry rate and you will discover that agricultural industries are near the highest rate. Underground gold mining at 2.3 per cent and off-shore oil and gas at 0.93 per cent are examples of how far agricultural industries have to go to meet other sectors.
These lower rates set the bar for community expectations and targets that we, as an industry, need to strive for. No matter the arguments that those other sectors can more easily account for and pass on costs, we live in a developed society that expects these levels of occupational health and safety across the board.
Our industry cannot afford to ignore these vastly different rates, and we should do more to demonstrate our commitment to better occupational health and safety procedures and outcomes to try and drive the agricultural rate as low as possible, as quickly as possible.
As we are still constrained by that high industry rate of 5.81 per cent, we should all be collectively striving to address our industry record. It is not just about improved safety or reducing the incidence of workplace accidents, but is about improving the bottom line of businesses.
I would like to see industry set a target of lowering our rate to four per cent in the next five years. At present, some in our industry will go out of their way to avoid employing additional labour, which can distort investment and business model.
I encourage you to look at Safe Farms WA and its new Farm Safety Guide as a starting point in addressing this much-overlooked industry engagement. Further, if members have experienced difficulties with the occupational safety and health legislation or want more information about rates, I encourage them to call the WAFarmers office to be put in touch with our legal partner Bailiwick Legal, or our insurance partner Bresland Insurance Group.
In my recent dealings with the insurance industry, I have been told that agriculture is not doing enough to help itself in addressing its poor standard or occupational health and safety, compared to other industries. We must all strive to improve our industry accident statistics, and do a better job for all our benefit.