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Adult and children in garden with overlay 'Backyard Biosecurity it’s up to all of us’ and ‘Agriculture Victoria’

Edition 18: Farm safety

In this edition:
Biosecurity and farm safety

This newsletter series has covered a range of biosecurity topics that are relevant to small landholders.  While biosecurity is often thought of in the context of diseases that affect livestock or crops, farm biosecurity measures also protect farmers and those working in agriculture. Edition 17 - Zoonotic diseases covered infectious diseases that can pass between animals to humans or humans to animals and we will touch on some of these again in this edition as well as taking the opportunity to talk about farm safety in general.

Farm safety for small landholders
Small horsepower tractor driving through grape vines

Farms, including small landholdings, are often both a workplace and home for many families making them unique environments.

According to WorkSafe Victoria, agriculture is overrepresented in workplace fatalities, accounting for approximately 14 per cent of workplace deaths despite making up just two per cent of the state’s workforce

Children are often a part of the farm workplace environment, either by helping with jobs, using the farm for recreation, or visiting friends and family. AgHealth Australia has found that one third of fatalities on farms are children under the age of five, and that children under the age of 15 represent 15 per cent of all farm-related deaths in Australia.


As a small landholder, you may be actively farming, retired, self-employed, have employees, or manage a piece of land for recreational purposes – no matter which, you have legal health and safety duties to:

  • Ensure your farm or property is a safe working environment without risks to the health of your employees. Employees can include contractors, vets, plumbers, electricians, or shearers.
  • Make sure activities don't expose anyone including your family, other workers, visitors, and contractors to health and safety risks.
  • Ensure people can safely enter and leave the farm or property without risk to their health.
  • Report work related notifiable incidents to WorkSafe Victoria.
Understanding the risks
Adult wearing helmet driving a quad bike fitted with an operator protective device (OPD)

Image credit: Worksafe Victoria

As a small landholder, it is important to understand the hazards that come with owning and running a farm.
Understanding the hazards allows you to assess the risks and create simple systems to manage them. The main areas of risk on Victorian farms are:

  • Operating quad bikes, side-by-sides, tractors, and their attachments
  • Handling large livestock, in particular cattle, sheep, and horses
  • Working in confined spaces like silos, milk vats, and tanks
  • Using chemicals like cleaning agents, pesticides, and herbicides
  • Working around electricity, for example, working near overhead powerlines and operating equipment like pumps near water
  • Working in isolation
  • Zoonotic diseases passing from animals to humans
Identifying the hazard and mitigating the risk

Eliminating the risk: The most effective control measure involves eliminating the hazard and its associated risk.

Reducing the risk through substitution, isolation, or engineering controls

If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the hazards and associated risks, the next strategy is to minimise the risk by:

  • Substituting the hazard with something safer. For example, you can use a cordless drill instead of an electric drill or use water-based paints instead of solvent-based paints.
  • Isolating the hazard. For example, installing fences and barriers around effluent ponds or other water sources that children could access.
  • Putting engineering controls in place. Control measures could include using a mechanical device or process. For example, a trolley or hoist to move heavy loads or speed restrictors on quad bikes and side-by-side vehicles.
Reducing the risk using administrative controls
  • Administrative controls are work methods or procedures designed to minimise exposure to a hazard. For example, developing procedures for the safe operation of machinery, or installing signs like children playing or overhead powerline to warn people about hazards.
Reducing the risk by using personal protective equipment (PPE)
Two women wearing PPE administer medication to a sheep
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is equipment worn to minimise risks to health and safety. PPE can include high visibility clothing, safety footwear such as steel-capped boots, sunscreen, gloves, helmets, hard hats, sunhats, hearing protection, or goggles.
Other things you can do to improve farm safety

Small landholders can protect family members, workers, and visitors to their property by:

  • Providing a safe and secured play area for children and ensuring they are always supervised by an adult.
  • Providing an induction that could include a tour of the property with a detailed map that includes the location of first aid kits, location of an incident/injury register, no-go zones, and safe play areas.
  • Providing training covering the safe operating procedures for machinery, ensuring that safety guards are always in place and that regular maintenance is undertaken.
  • Ensuring that children under 16 years of age do not operate quad bikes.
  • Where it's reasonably practicable, work near others to maintain communication to help reduce the risks or working alone.
Small children playing within a fenced safe play area.
Zoonotic diseases

Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases that can pass between animals to humans or humans to animals.

People most at risk of being affected by a zoonotic disease are those in close contact with animals or animal products, including farmers, pet owners, veterinarians, abattoir workers, shearers, and pig hunters. Children, elderly people, pregnant women, and people with impaired immunity are also generally at higher risk.

For more information visit Episode 17: Zoonotic diseases.

Reducing exposure to zoonoses
Close up of a person scrubbing a boot

There are several things you can do to reduce exposure to a zoonotic disease:

  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE). The use of PPE is particularly important where contact with animal tissues, faeces or urine is likely, or the risk of infection is high. 
  • Wear PPE like overalls, gloves, eye protection and masks and take care when assisting or being near animals when they are birthing or are sick.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect workspaces and equipment, including PPE, instruments, harnesses, and rugs.
  • Children and pregnant women should avoid areas where animals (especially cats) may defecate.
  • Dog owners should appropriately dispose of their animals’ faeces.
Personal health and hygiene

There are simple things you can do to protect yourself and your family from zoonotic diseases:

  • Wash hands with soap for 10-20 seconds under running water after handling animals and before preparing or eating food/drink.
  • Use hand sanitisers, such as alcohol-based hand rubs, where there is no water.
  • Promptly treat cuts or abrasions.
  • Talk to your doctor about a vaccination for key zoonoses, for example Q fever.
Find out more about making your farm safer

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We have added the Backyard Biosecurity newsletter series to the Agriculture Victoria website, to enable you to easily find a previous edition.


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