Farmers face difficult realities

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Safety tips: Victoria Police Crime Prevention Officers Dan O’Bree and Mark Wilkinson (left) outline steps farmers can take to make their properties safer. They are with Stanhope Farmers at the event and the organizer, Senior Constable Frank Scopelliti.

Kelly Barnes of the Regional Center for Farmers’ Health and Brad Allott of Primary Care Connection 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 medical professional to provide support to the farming population.

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

He was among a number of health, police and Worksafe officers giving presentations at last week’s Stanhope Farmers’ Day, hosted by Stanhope Police Officer Senior Constable Frank Scopelliti.

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

Now living in Katandra, former Stanhope Elementary and Kyabram High School student Sue’s mother still lives in Stanhope.

Its role is to participate directly in improving the health of the agricultural community in the region.

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

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

Last week’s Farmers’ Day offered a broad overview of health and safety, with Victorian Police crime prevention officers Dan O’Bree and Mark Wilkinson giving an overview of the latest safety procedures.

Worksafe’s Lisa Menhennet offered an overview of farm safety, covering everything from using a ladder correctly to struggling to communicate with employees who often had a limited understanding of English.

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

“There is also the Victorian Farmers Federation program, Making our Farms Safer, where a two-person team comes to the farm and identifies hazards,” she said.

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

“There was a situation where a man was stuck under a tractor, working alone. He was lucky his phone was in his pocket, otherwise it wouldn’t have been such a good result,” she said.

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

Kelly Barnes, based in Hamilton with the Regional Center for Farmers’ Health, spoke about the physical and mental health of farmers.

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

“From the health of the farmer to the welfare of the animals and the possible loss of production.

“Agricultural workers have the highest death rate of any industry, 13.1 workers die per 100,000 workers.”

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

“Telehealth is becoming an important service in a range of situations, due to the lack of professional services available in rural areas,” she said.

Ms Barnes said it was not bad news, however.

She explained that community involvement was much higher among farmers and life satisfaction was also higher among rural people.

Ms Barnes said the mental health of farmers was a focus of her organization and other regional health groups, with the suicide rate rising in rural areas.

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

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

“There’s a stigma of not being able to cope,” she said.

Alcohol consumption among male farmers is three times the national average, while the rate of female alcohol consumption on farms is twice the rate for the rest of the country.

She said access to services such as the Primary Producer Knowledge Network – sponsored by Worksafe and co-designed through consultation between farmers and health professionals – was a good place to start.

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

Senior Constable Scopelliti said people who were “not feeling well” could always just walk into the police station.

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

“It’s completely private once I provide the access point, so people don’t have to worry about others knowing about your private company.

“My time is just connecting people to the help they need and what happens from there is totally between them and the service,” he said.

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