Assessing risk of new sustainable farming practices
There’s good news for farmers adopting sustainable practices as these can prove safer and better for the environment, but with change comes new and emerging risks that the NSW Government hopes will soon be better understood.
ISF have partnered with the Centre for Work Health and Safety to examine the work health and safety risks to farming communities that are brought about or enhanced by the pressures from an increasingly variable climate.
Already many farmers are responding to unpredictable rainfall and extreme heat by changing the way they work, with little information about the way these changes might affect work health and safety.
ISF research director Brent Jacobs explains, "Farmers are continuously adopting and adapting practices to cope with change. One of the big drivers of change is, of course, climate and extreme weather. Whenever there are big changes in farming systems, such as in adoption of circular economy principles or regenerative agriculture, the new set of practices changes the hazards farmers and their families are exposed to. This project is about understanding the dynamics of risk for farming communities and how to manage them."
Because of the nature of their work, farmers are already overrepresented in accounts of workplace injuries and fatalities, which is why it's important to get ahead of any risks new technology and practices might pose.
ISF research principal Rebecca Cunningham says, "We know farming communities have higher rates of exposure to some risks, such as agricultural chemicals, heavy machinery and animal diseases. Farmers, their families and farm workers are unique in Australia’s workforce because they live at their place of work and their work environment is often very remote. So it's critical we understand this unique situation to help reduce the rates of accidents on farms."
But it's not all bad news; some of the new methods in farming will potentially pose less risk to farmers. For example, organic farming will mitigate chronic pesticide exposure, or reduced crop stubble burning will mean less airborne particulates.
The challenge," says Minister for Better Regulation, Kevin Anderson, "is to work out what is and isn’t safer, either for physical or mental health, and to get on the front foot to manage new and emerging risks in sustainable farming.
In addition to identifying risk and reward, ISF will gather anecdotal evidence from farmers across NSW who have adopted sustainable land management practices and/or alternative farming systems and find out about their experiences.
The final phase of the project is to get more farmers into sustainable farming practices that reduce work health and safety risks by devising a strategy to circulate evidence-based advice to farmers, farming families and farm workers.
For more information visit the Centre for Work Health and Safety website