Dairy Farm Injury in Victoria

Monash University Accident Research Centre - Report #96 - 1996

Author: L. Day

Full report in .pdf format [1.8MB]

Abstract:

Injury is a major occupational health and safety issue for agricultural industries. Over the past 10 years in Victoria more work related deaths have occurred in agriculture than in any other industry group (Health and Safety Organisation, 1995). This report profiles injuries in the dairy industry based on the best available data from Victorian and national health and workers' compensation databases. The findings should be regarded as preliminary because of the limitations of these databases.

The leading agents of fatal injury on dairy farms were shown to be the same as those on all types of farms - vehicles, dams and tractors. The leading agents of non fatal injury on dairy farms were cattle, hot water, gates/fences and dairy plant. The major injuries were bums, fractures, cuts and sprains. The body parts most frequently injured were eyes, fingers, hands, forearms and the back.

Back injuries mainly featured in retrospective surveys reported in the literature and in the WorkCover data. The hazards for the dairying industry to address include dams, vehicles and tractors for fatal injury and cattle, hot water and motorcycles for non fatal injury. Back injury would also seem to be a chronic dairy farm injury issue, although the hazards are a little more difficult to define from the available data.

Recommendations to prevent dairy farm injuries include: reducing opportunities for cattle contact by improving either the design of the dairy or cattle handling practices; developing safe practices and improving the design of the dairy for the safer handling of hot water; developing boots designed to protect from hot water splashes and spills; investigating the circumstances in which frequent injuries, such as hand injuries, occur to determine whether a generic countermeasure such as some form of hand protection might be applicable; and reducing injuries to children as they are over-represented in deaths and serious injuries in the available data

A number of recommendations to improve the availability and quality of data on dairy farm injury are also made

Executive Summary

Introduction

Injury is a major occupational health and safety issue for agricultural industries. Over the past 10 years in Victoria more work related deaths have occurred in agriculture than in any other industry group (Health and Safety Organisation, 1995). Both Farmsafe Australia and Worksafe Australia have identified the need to work with key agricultural commodity groups to develop industry specific safety strategies and are currently actively pursuing this objective. Therefore, the commitment by the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (LTDV) to develop a health and safety strategy for dairying is timely.

Data sources

This report profiles injuries in the dairy industry based on the best available data. Data from Victorian and national health and workers' compensation databases were analysed, to the extent possible, for cases of dairy farm specific injuries. A Medline search of the international and national literature was conducted to gather information specific to dairy farm injury. Contact was also made with key researchers in Australia to gather information which may not have reached the published literature.

The literature on dairy farm injury is sparse. In the international literature owner-operators were reported to be more at risk in two studies and cattle and machinery were found to be the prominent causes of injury. Australian studies reported that dairy farm injuries were associated with animal handling, heavy lifting, trips and stumbles and motorbikes. Hand and back injuries predominated.

Victorian injury databases cover different levels of severity or capture particular sub-groups of farm injury. Definite dairy farm injury fatalities can be identified in the Victorian Coroner's database. Non-fatal cases can be identified in the Latrobe Valley Hospital emergency department collection (part of the Victorian Injury Surveillance System) and the general practice collection (Extended Latrobe Valley Injury Surveillance). Case identification is also possible in data collected by WorkCover and the Health and Safety Organisation, Victoria. In future, dairy farm injury cases will also be identifiable in the Victorian Hospital Emergency Minimum Database when that data becomes available, to the extent that hospitals from dairying areas participate in this collection.

The identification of dairy farm injuries generally relies on the recording of the specific location of the injury (farm and type of farm) from patients at some point of contact. Currently, in some of the data collections mentioned above, this information is not collected systematically.

Although there is sufficient data available to establish a broad picture of dairy farm injury, the extent of coverage is less than ideal, particularly for non fatal injury. Monitoring of trends in dairy farm injury over time is only possible in the Latrobe Valley Emergency Department collection.

Results

  • The leading agents of fatal injury on dairy farms identified from the data analysis were vehicles, darns and tractors. These are also the most common hazards associated with unintentional deaths on all farms. The management of these hazards should receive priority on dairy farms as on other farms.
  • The leading agents of non fatal injury on dairy farms were cattle, hot water, gates/fences and dairy plant.
  • The major injuries were bums, fractures, cuts and sprains. The body parts most frequently injured were eyes, fingers, hands, forearms and the back.

There were some differences in the pattern of injury on dairy farms compared to the pattern for farms in general. Cattle and hot water were more prominent causes of hospital admission for dairy farm injuries, while animals being ridden, motorcycles, and machinery were less prominent causes. For emergency department presentations, cattle, dairy plant and hot water appear more important causes of injury on dairy farms and motorcycles and machinery appear to be less important It was interesting to note that back injuries mainly featured in retrospective surveys reported in the literature and in the WorkCover data. These findings should be regarded as preliminary because of the limitations of the databases outlined above.

Recommendations

It would appear from this initial study that the hazards for the dairying industry to address include dams, vehicles and tractors for fatal injury and cattle, hot water and motorcycles for non fatal injury. Back injury would also seem to be a chronic dairy farm injury issue, although the hazards are a little more difficult to define from the available data.

Prevention of injuries from these hazards could focus on:

  • reducing opportunities for cattle contact by improving either the design of the dairy or cattle handling practices
  • developing safe practices and improving the design of the dairy for the safer handling of hot water
  • design boots to protect from hot water splashes and spills
  • investigating the circumstances in which frequent injuries, such as hand injuries, occur to determine whether a generic countermeasure such as some form of hand protection might be applicable.
  • reducing injuries to children as they are over-represented in deaths and serious injuries in the available data

This study only dealt with injury and was not extended to include other occupational health issues relevant to dairy farmers such as zoonoses, chronic exposure to chemicals and sun exposure. Such issues should also be considered when devising an occupational health and safety strategy for the industry.

Recommendations to improve the availability and quality of data on dairy farm injury (and farm injury in general, in some cases) for the purposes of informing prevention programs and subsequent evaluation of the impact of such programs include:

  • Liaise with the State Coroner to ensure identification of farm type in the Coroner's database.
  • Explore the potential for identification of farm type in the Health and Safety Organisation's fatality and serious injury database.
  • Incorporate the National Minimum Dataset (Injury Surveillance) Level 1, plus an extended location code for farms into the Victorian Inpatient Minimum Database, which must be completed in all injury cases. This would require systematically collecting this information from the patient before discharge. For hospitals participating in the Victorian Emergency Minimum Database, this could be achieved by linking that database with the Victorian Inpatient Minimum Database.
  • Ensure that the coding framework for the National Minimum Dataset (Injury Surveillance) Level 2 includes the Farm Injury Optimal Dataset developed by the Australian Agricultural Health Unit.
  • Encourage regional hospitals in Victoria to participate in Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset and use the National Minimum Dataset (Injury Surveillance) Level 2, including the Farm Injury Optimal dataset.
  • Ensure that injury surveillance methods allow the identification of all farm injuries and the relevant commodity group.
  • Explore the feasibility of compulsory notification of farm injury, including farm type, by all treating doctors in a similar fashion to infectious diseases.
  • Incorporate a farm injury register sheet into the Managing Farm Safety Kit to facilitate self recording of farm injuries, including dairy farm injuries.
  • Institute some incentives for farmers to collect injury data on their farms.
  • Establish a system for the collection, validation and integration of injury data collected by farmers.
  • Given the patchy nature of current databases for dairy farm injury identification, a comprehensive survey of members of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria should be seriously considered. The purpose would be to determine the pattern of injuries experienced on dairy farms, to establish a baseline of injury occurrence against which the success of the health and safety strategy could be measured and to investigate the current safety practices used and equipment available on dairy farms. The survey would facilitate targeting of the farm safety strategy and provide a baseline to measure the impact of the actions taken. It is recommended that the survey method chosen should generate a high response rate from the members.

Sponsors: United Dairyfarmers of Victoria, Dairy Research and Development Corporation & Public Health Research and Development Committee