FOR paramedic Jess, the inherent trust that comes with being a first responder is a highlight of the work she does on-farm with Ambulance Victoria.
It’s this trust that positions Jess and other first responders as respected advisors to farmers who often tend to be the most stoic of audiences.
“We’re lucky enough to have that trust as soon as we walk in with this uniform, and I think that really helps when we give advice and when we express concern about safety,” Jess said.
“It’s a position that is rare. I value it a lot – just having that automatic faith that you’re not going to lecture anyone and you’re not going to judge.”
Jess, who works across Gippsland and responds to many incidents involving farmers, is using this trust to encourage positive discussions around safer farm practices, including physical and mental safety.
“A lot of our work in Gippsland centres around farming. There’s a lot of dairy farming, there’s a lot of cattle. It’s important for us to know about farms because we work on them,” she said.
“I’ve responded to more than 4000 incidents. Some of the most common incidents involve machinery and there are a lot to do with the animals themselves. A lot of crush injuries through cattle head-butts where cattle will just swing their head and there’s a few hundred kilos behind them.
“At one incident a piece of machinery came down on an experienced farmer’s limb who had used the machinery hundreds of times before. When we arrived, it wasn’t bleeding profusely, but then as soon as they let go of it, there was a lot of blood, and we could already tell that they’d sadly probably lose the limb.”
This incident stayed with Jess, and she has since looked into the fate of the farmer.
“This was one of the ones that I wanted to follow up on and see how they were going, and we learnt that the limb was amputated and they’re unable to farm as a result. I was really devastated for them.”
In Jess’ experience, the idea that ‘it won’t happen to me’ can be common among farmers when she responds to incidents. She wants farmers to know that things can change in the ‘blink of an eye’.
“There’s always going to be risks. Whenever we get in our car as paramedics; we’re facing a risk. I think it’s important to acknowledge that farming is never going to be risk-free, but it’s about doing that risk analysis and saying, ‘okay, how can I reduce those risks to make it a safer environment?’
“There are things farmers can do each day to make their work safer. Checking the gates are closed, checking their equipment is up-to-scratch and not rusty or doing a risk analysis of the surroundings of the machines, oiling up the machine or replacing a bolt.”
“This is especially if you’re working by yourself, making sure that all the safety elements are in place is very, very important.
“There’s still a risk there. But by doing these things we’re reducing the harm that can be caused by it.”
Jess is a fierce advocate of both physical and mental health and believes farmers should actively prioritise both.
“I’ve found that farmers are used to just pushing through and their bucket just fills up, drip by drip until eventually, the bucket overflows,” she said.
“There should always be things in place to reduce the likelihood of getting injured or having that bucket overflow. Part of that is asking for help. Help doing an activity or completing a task or a job, help getting mental health support or getting an ambulance.
“Show the same concern for yourself as you would others.”
Jess has shared her story as part of WorkSafe Victoria’s ‘It’s never you, until it is’ campaign, which promotes farm safety and highlights that injuries and death on farms are preventable.
Working long multiple days in a row by yourself can be part of the job, but even one day of 17 continuous hours causes impairment equivalent to .05 blood alcohol concentration.
Consider the cost to you and your family. Don’t let long hours come at the price of you being injured or worse.
Know the signs and find ways to reduce the risk of fatigue at worksafe.vic.gov.au/farmfatigue