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Farmers face some hard facts

Safety advice: Victorian police Crime Prevention Officers Dan O’Bree and Mark Wilkinson (left) offer an insight into measures farmers can take to make their properties safer. They are with Stanhope farmers at the event and organiser Leading Constable Frank Scopelliti.
Kelly Barnes from the Regional Centre for Farmer Health and Primary Care Connect’s Brad Allott at Stanhope Senior Citizens last week for the Stanhope Farmers’ Day health and safety event.

Brad Allott has as good an understanding of the Stanhope community as anyone: he grew up in the town and has now returned as a health professional to offer support to the farming population.

Mr Allott is a community health nurse with Shepparton-based Primary Care Connect, which is responsible for offering health services to the rural communities.

He was among a number of health, police and Worksafe officers to make presentations at last week’s Stanhope Farmers’ Day, organised by Stanhope policeman, Leading Constable Frank Scopelliti.

Mr Allott spent six years with GV Health, but for the past four months has worked with Primary Care Connect.

Now living at Katandra, the former Stanhope primary and Kyabram secondary student’s mother Sue still lives in Stanhope.

His role involves being directly involved with improving the health of the region’s farming community.

Part of that is a free 90-minute farmer health check, which has been operating for five years.

The closest health check sites for Kyabram district farmers are Tatura and Shepparton, among six locations in the region.

Last week’s farmers’ day offered a broad overview of health and safety, Victorian Police Crime Prevention Officers Dan O’Bree and Mark Wilkinson providing an insight into the latest safety procedures.

Worksafe’s Lisa Menhennet offered an insight into farm safety, covering everything from the correct use of a ladder to the difficulty in communicating with employees who often had a limited grasp of English.

She said there were several support mechanisms available to farmers, including the free consultancy service – OHS Essentials.

“There is also the Victorian Farmers Federation program, Making our Farms Safer, where a team of two people come onto the farm and identify hazards,” she said.

She said people should also be aware of technology available to assist with safety when people were working alone.

“There was a situation where a man was trapped under a tractor, working by himself. He was lucky that his phone was in his pocket, otherwise it would not have been such a good outcome,” she said.

Ms Menhennet explained that Worksafe officers were “not running around in stealth mode” and preferred to work with farmers to resolve any complaints and provide preventative measures.

Kelly Barnes, based at Hamilton with the Regional Centre for Farmer Health, spoke about the physical and mental health of farmers.

“Injuries to farmers have a flow on effect, which eventually impacts on the community,” she said.

“From the health of the farmer to animal welfare and eventual loss of production.

“Farm workers have the highest fatality rate of any industry, 13.1 workers die per 100,000 worker.”

Ms Barnes explained farmers were two-and-a-half-times more likely to be hospitalised (rural people) for preventable scenarios than metropolitan people.

"Telehealth becomes an important service in a range of situations, because of the lack of professional services available in rural areas,“ she said.

Ms Barnes said it was not, however, all bad news.

She explained community participation was much higher with farmers and life satisfaction was also higher for rural people.

Ms Barnes said the mental health of farmers was a focus of her organisation and other regionally based health groups, with an increase in the suicide rate in rural areas.

“There are several contributing factors: people worried about finances, suffering from a loss of social connection and having access to firearms,” she said.

Ms Barnes said farmers’ tendencies to offer others help, but a reluctance to ask for help themselves, was something that needed to improve.

“There is a stigma about not being able to cope,” she said.

Male farmers’ alcohol consumption is three times that of the national average, while the female rate of alcohol consumption on farms is double the rate of the rest of the nation.

She said accessing services such as the Primary Producers Knowledge Network – sponsored by Worksafe and co-designed through consultation between farmers and health professionals –was a good starting point.

She said information was available at www.farmerhealth.org.au

Leading Constable Scopelliti said people who were “not feeling right’’ could always simply come into the police station.

“We act as a service to provide referrals for people who need some help,” he said.

“It is completely private once I provide the access point, so people do not have to worry about others knowing your private business.

"My time is to simply put people in touch with the assistance they need and what happens from there is totally between them and the service,“ he said.