Almost $100 million was paid out by the Accident Compensation Corporation for agriculture-related injuries last year, and injuries caused by lifting and carrying topped the list of complaints.
The figure, which includes new and existing claims, has risen by about $14m in the past five years, yet the number of new claims in 2022 (18,164) has dropped since 2018, when 21,846 were lodged.
ACC injury prevention leader James Whitaker said research shows 90% of all injuries are predictable and preventable, and those in the agriculture sector are no different.
“New Zealand agricultural workers are among the best in the world at what they do, but sometimes we don’t make the best decisions if we’re feeling tired or under pressure.”
The figures supplied by ACC encompass agriculture, forestry and fisheries and are based on information provided by claimants.
They show the total payout in 2022 was $97,987,530, and $1,629,142 of that related to fatalities. In 2018, claims reached $83,895,820 and have steadily been on the increase since.
The figures, which do not include GST, are made up of new claims and active claims – those which happened in earlier years but require ongoing costs.
Lifting and carrying strain injuries are the most common type of complaints with 3412 lodged last year, compared with 3728 in 2018.
Loss of balance or personal control were responsible for 3248 claims last year, compared with a five-year peak of 3763 in 2021. People being struck by animals, or another person, also feature prominently, with 1636 such claims lodged last year, down from 2040 in 2018. Lower back and spine injuries accounted for most claims last year, followed by finger and thumb injuries.
However, some inroads into farm vehicle safety appear to be occurring. Injuries from the loss of control of a vehicle accounted for 92 claims last year, down from 254 in 2018.
Federated Farmers national president Andrew Hoggard said the rise in payout costs is simply down to inflation – “it costs more to do stuff these days”.
However, it is a positive to see claim numbers dropping, he said. Minor injuries, such as strains and twists, are “pretty much” part of farming but it is the fatalities and serious injury accidents that need to be addressed, he said.
“Any death is too many.
“It’s the serious accidents, where people haven’t really thought things through or something goes tragically wrong – that’s where we have to work on getting those down.”
Hoggard said it is pleasing to see the number of claims for injuries from loss of control of vehicles drop in recent years and it shows the benefits of targeted safety campaigns in the sector.
“I think that has been money well spent.”
ACC has partnered with the Farmers Mutual Group (FMG) and the Mental Health Foundation to deliver the rural wellbeing programme Farmstrong.
“Farmstrong is an initiative to help farmers, growers, and their families cope with the ups and downs of agricultural work by sharing things they can do to look after themselves and the people in their business,” Whitaker said.
The programme provides safety tips and tools for workers in agriculture.
Whitaker said a lot of injuries in the agriculture sector could be prevented if workers took the time to think about what they are doing before getting stuck in. Accidents have flow-on effects for friends, family, workmates and teammates.
“If we take a few seconds to think about the risks involved in our task and make smart choices, we can be injury-free and get the job done.
“A few extra seconds could prevent a long period of inactivity and lost productivity at the other end.”
Hoggard said the Feds’ focus this year will be in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay and the mental wellness of farmers impacted by cyclones.
“There is so much work to be done. People are going to be putting in long hours and that raises the risk of injuries. So it will be about supporting those people.”