'Shark Tank' cash for farm safety ideas

By: Cat Fitzpatrick

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The new Rural Safety and Health Alliance is seeking innovative ideas to improve health and safety in Australia’s agriculture and fishery industries

'Shark Tank' cash for farm safety ideas
The RSHA will look for new ways to strengthen workplace safety on farms. Image courtesy Getty Images


A new partnership has been launched that brings together nine organisations to find solutions to improve health and safety in Australia’s agricultural and fisheries industries.

The Rural Safety and Health Alliance (RSHA) is a collaboration between AgriFutures Australia, Australian Eggs, Australian Pork, Australian Wool Innovation, Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Dairy Australia, Fisheries Research & Development Corporation, Grains Research & Development Corporation and Meat & Livestock Australia.

The RSHA will invest in practical extension solutions informed by industry input on work, health and safety risks.

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Key features of the alliance include setting clear priorities to better target research, development and extension, strengthening industry leadership and developing a ‘shark tank’ funding model, where applicants work together to pitch projects for funding.

Alliance Chair Patrick Murphy says that the RSHA is a refreshed approach to tackling workplace health and safety across agricultural and primary industries.

"Over the past decade tractors have been the number one cause of death [on farms]," he told TradeFarmMachinery.com.au.

"Close to ten years ago, at a very conservative level, both the direct and indirect costs for tractor fatalities was $86 million, which in today’s terms is over $100 million. That cost estimate does not include lost farm income, replacement labour costs, repairing machinery, [etc.]. So the real cost borne by farmers in workplace health and safety related incidents is really much greater."

The primary focus of RSHA will be setting an industry-wide development and research agenda and extending that into practical applications for farmers, seeking to leverage funding and leadership from Research Development Corporations (RDCs) to gain support from public and private organisations.

The aim is to assist start-ups through to experienced extension providers to find new, innovative and creative ways to develop practical solutions and eliminate duplication.

"The reality is that there’s been volumes of research that have done by academics and the like all around the world but we’re continue to kill people the same way we’ve been killing people in farming for the past 50 years," says Murphy.

"We’ve got to cut through with the most practical, cost effective solutions to be able to keep people safe and healthy. And that’s an important component – workplace health and safety should not be about adding cost and adding burden, particularly to our small and medium-sized businesses. They don’t have the luxury of having workplace health and safety officers at their fingertips and all of the luxuries that you might be able to afford in a big enterprise.

"The reality is that we need to get to a place where working safely isn’t cost prohibitive and doesn’t add a burden. And it isn’t about paperwork, it isn’t about writing systems, it’s about finding those practical, innovative solutions that will keep people out of the line of fire.

"We need to find new ways of protecting people and preventing people from being in harm’s way. That’s what we’re keen to hear about. So whether that’s university students or TAFE students, or even school-based students who have seen mum and dad do something they think is unsafe and they’ve got a better idea. Whether it’s someone working remotely, in the fisheries area or in the agricultural sector – any of those ideas we are willing to listen to."

Murphy says that examples of projects that would fall into the Alliance’s area of interest include using the right gear for the right job, keeping up to date with maintenance of farm machinery, particularly preventative maintenance, and safety measures such as using hand breaks and keeping machinery guards in place.

"We’ve got to make sure that any of our people who work on any type of farm across Australia know what are the things that will help keep them safe, how do they know that they’re going to work and how do they know that those controls are in place?" he explains.

"The difference between the Alliance and earlier efforts is the research-focused agenda and its competitive funding model which will generate accountability to ensure RD&E investments deliver a return on value and translate into practical improvements for producers and the entire primary production system.

"In the past there’s been hundreds of thousands of dollars invested, particularly from the RDC world, and that was a positive investment and a good start. There is no question in my mind that we will need to be investing more than that."

The Rural Safety and Health Alliance is seeking registrations of interest from groups or individuals who want to be kept updated as the Alliance is formed, such as from research and extension professionals, industry associations, producers, agricultural workers, government and advocacy groups.

To register for updates, or for more information on the Alliance, visit www.rsha.com.au

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