Five farm deaths in three months point to ongoing health and safety problems on farms

A Westpac rescue helicopter responding to a four wheel drive accident on a farm in Te Miro, Waikato.


A Westpac rescue helicopter responding to a four wheel drive accident on a farm in Te Miro, Waikato.

There are more fatalities on farms than in any other industry, and there are no signs that the trend is really slowing down, one researcher says.

WorkSafe data showed there were five farm fatalities and 30 WorkSafe report injuries in the first three months of this year.

In contrast, there were no forestry and logging fatalities and only six reportable injuries.

Dr. Rebbecca Lilley, who led a study on work-related fatal injuries for the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago, said patterns of fatal workplace injuries on farms have changed little historically and that the agricultural sector has been a major contributor to fatalities. worker casualties over the past 40 years.

* Marlborough’s most dangerous industries urged them to rethink health and safety
* Make it click: Using seatbelts could cut car deaths on farms by nearly half
* Four deaths on the farm in three weeks point to dangerous industry

“The risks are known but poorly controlled on farms,” ​​she said.

WorkSafe data showed there were 10 farm fatalities last year, six in 2021, 18 in 2020, 14 in 2019 and 15 in 2018.

In contrast, there were six deaths in construction last year, eight in 2021, four in 2020, thirteen in 2019 and six in 2018.

Between 2019 and 2022, there were three forestry and logging fatalities each year, six of which occurred in 2018.

There was one fatal mining accident in 2020, there were no others in this five-year period.

The study, led by Lilley, looked at corona data from 2005 to 2014 to examine the causes of workplace fatalities.


Trees have been taped off at Madills Farm in Kohimarama, a popular reserve and playground in central Auckland. One person was seriously injured by a falling tree on Tuesday after the ground was drenched by Cyclone Gabrielle.

It identified 132 worker deaths among farm owners or managers, she said.

This was the second highest number of worker deaths in this decade, behind professional drivers.

During this time, there were 91 deaths among farm workers, compared to 46 deaths among forest workers and 24 deaths among fishermen and sailors.

While deaths and injuries fell in all other sectors, agriculture, forestry and fishing showed an increase.

“This increase in fatal injury risk makes this group a priority of urgent attention and further research into why primary manufacturing sectors have not experienced the same health and safety benefits as other workers in other industries,” Lilley said.

Most agricultural accidents were vehicle-related, she said.

Workers were also injured or died cutting down trees or were injured by large animals, she said.

Vehicles often lost traction and rolled over, crushing the driver.

The number of work-related injuries or deaths has slowly declined over the past 30 years thanks to changes in occupational health and safety legislation, she said.

“Agriculture, in particular, has stagnated over this period and has even increased at times, suggesting that deregulation of occupational health and safety legislation has been ineffective in managing the high risks of work-related deaths and injuries in the agriculture,” she said.

Increased extreme weather events could be a cause for concern in the future, Lilley said.

Rebbecca Lilley is a senior research fellow at the University of Otago Injury Prevention Research.


Rebbecca Lilley is a senior research fellow at the University of Otago Injury Prevention Research.

The study showed that workers in outdoor workplaces, including farm owners and agricultural workers, were more likely to experience fatalities from weather, due to flooding, unstable wet or dry soils, and loose flying debris in high winds.

“I am concerned that without proper management of farm safety risks, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events in New Zealand due to global warming could increase the number of deaths in this sector,” said Lilley.