Understanding Psychosocial Safety in Farming

The new Workplace Health and Safety Queensland Code of Practice came into effect on 1 April and highlights the importance of managing psychosocial hazards and risks at work as well as managing physical risks.

This World Day for Safety and Health at Work, we’re unpacking what these new changes mean to Queensland farmers.

Farming in Australia is not for the faint-hearted and our farmers are well recognised for being tough and resilient. But does this also contribute to the enduring stigma farmers face when it comes to their mental health?

Farmers are more likely to experience depression and anxiety and are almost twice as likely to die of suicide when compared to the general population. Shockingly, it’s estimated that one Aussie farmer dies of suicide every 10 days.

Many farmers struggle in silence. They are more reluctant to ‘burden’ friends and family with challenges or seek health care. It can also be difficult for farmers seeking support to access it due to rural medical workforce challenges and distance. The impact on farming families and communities is huge.

The changes in the Code of Practice highlight the importance of managing many psychosocial hazards farmers face everyday and provides tools and advice that—if applied by farmers in their farms—might save lives and families.

We encourage all farmers—workers, leaders, supervisors, managers and business owners—to implement the practical steps outlined in the Code to create a mentally healthy workplaces and farms.

What are psychosocial hazards?

A psychosocial hazard is anything that relates to the design or management of work, the work environment, plant and equipment, or workplace interactions and behaviours.

Psychosocial hazards and their effects are not always obvious. But managing psychosocial hazards and risks at work is just as important as managing physical risks.

Psychosocial hazards are anything in the design or management of work that increases the risk of psychological or physical harm, including:

  • Including processes or decisions that are perceived as unfair.

  • Including lack of positive feedback, an imbalance between workers’ efforts and formal and informal recognition and rewards, lack of opportunity for skills development or underused skills and experiences.

  • Including incidents where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in relation to their work

  • Including investigating, witnessing or being directly exposed to traumatic events or situations, or reading, hearing or seeing accounts of traumatic events

  • Including repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed toward a worker or group of workers i.e. insulting, offensive language, deliberately excluding someone from work activities, spreading misinformation or rumours

  • Including unwelcome or unsolicited, offensive, humiliating or intimidating behaviour related to someone’s sex, race, age or other personal attribute. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature

  • Including locations where access to resources and communications is difficult and travel times may be lengthy and/or there are no or few other people around

  • Including exposure to poor quality or hazardous work environments, i.e. hazardous manual tasks, poor air quality, high noise levels, extreme temperatures or working near unsafe machinery

  • Including having little control over aspects of the work i.e. how or when a job is done

  • Including inadequate emotional and practical support from supervisors and co-workers, inadequate training or information to support their work performance, or inadequate tools, equipment or resources to do the job

  • Including uncertainty about or frequent changes to tasks and work standards, important task information is not available to workers, or conflicting job roles, responsibilities or expectations

  • Including aspects of the job that require sustained high or low levels of physical and/or psychological effort or skill

  • Including insufficient consideration, practical support, consultation and communication about transitions or major changes

  • Including frequent or excessive disagreements, or rude comments from one person to another or between multiple people

What are the effects of psychosocial hazards?

When present at low levels over a long period of time, the impacts of psychosocial hazards can build up and significantly affect people’s health.

Others psychosocial hazards may cause more immediate harm such as a single stressful event.

In many circumstances, psychosocial hazards combine to create frequent, prolonged or severe stress responses and increase risk of harm.

If not effectively managed, psychosocial hazards at work can lead to serious harm for people and business.

What does it mean for farmers?

For lots of people, work is a significant part of their lives and it’s right that workplaces play an important role in supporting the mental and physical health of employees.

And for farmers, farming or ‘work’ is in their DNA. It’s their identity. And, it’s their passion. For farmers, protecting and enhancing mental and physical health is essential.

What are the changes?

Changes to the Code of Practice do not create new work health and safety duties or expand existing duties for business owners, managers, supervisors and team leaders.

Workplaces have always had to manage the risks of psychosocial hazards.

The new Code of Practice simply provides clear guidance on how to reduce or remove workplace risks to psychological health under existing legal obligations in the WHS Act.

What can farmers do to manage the risks of psychosocial hazards?

There are lots of resources available from WorkSafe for employers. The advice that really stood out to us for farmers was the importance of modelling psychological self-care.

Almost 30% Aussie farmers don’t employ staff and almost 38% employ one or two people. Farms are big businesses, run by small teams—and mostly kept in the family, with 99% of Australian farms estimated to be operated by families.

So, if you’re an Aussie farmer, modelling psychological self-care is for you, your family and your team.

Here are some tips:

  • Take time for a lunch break and, if possible, connect with others on the farm
  • Take up a hobby or make time to learn something new—not related to work
  • Make time to engage with positive friends and family
  • Take time to relax and recover

Other ways to practice self-care include:

  • Keep up-to-date with the latest in the field by attending events, engaging with peers and reading journals
  • Develop a regular sleep routine, move your body and aim for a healthy diet
  • Prioritise your close relationships and talk to others about how you’re coping with work and life demands.

How to ask if someone is OK in the workplace

It’s important but it’s not always easy. Here are some tips to help start a conversation:

  • Be ready to listen and give time if needed
  • Be prepared to be open minded and understanding
  • Pick a moment—where and when—you’ll approach them
  • Ask them if they’re ok
  • Listen without judgment
  • Encourage them to take action
  • Check-in

Find more information to help you start a conversation with staff in this RUOK? resource.

Know that you’re not alone

We are driven every day to ensure farmers know that help is just a phone call away. Our team members are all certified Mental Health First Aiders and our regular farm visits are a vital lifeline to many farmers and their families. We also connect farmers with additional health services through our Family Support program.

Aussie farmers are the last people to ask for help. But when they do need it, we’re here for them—wherever, whenever and however they need us.

Our work is incredibly fulfilling. Our highly engaged, purpose driven team provides outstanding support to farmers and rural communities every day. To protect and enhance team’s own health and wellbeing, we ensure it’s front of mind with daily communications and encourage our team members to use our employee assistance program (EAP).

Where can I find more information?

In an emergency call 000 or go to your local hospital emergency department.

Find more information at:

900 900 Aussie Helpers

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Helping Aussie farming families this Christmas

Like millions of Aussies right now, many farmers are struggling. And, as hotter and drier conditions return, we’re anticipating more farmers will need our help than ever before.

It’s a tragic irony that farmers work from sun-up to sunset to feed our families—and yet many will struggle to afford a Christmas lunch and gifts for their loved ones.

There are many ways to helps us to help Aussie farming families in need this Christmas, including donating funds, donating goods, volunteering, fundraising and partnering.

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We’re here to help you and your families

Times are really tough for farming families across Australia.

Please know that you’re not alone.

With the help of our donors, partners and volunteers, we’re doing everything we can to support you through this tough time and bring a smile to your family this Christmas.

If you’re a farmer and would like to register for support this Christmas, please complete the form below.

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Supporting schools in farming communities

With the help of our donors, partners and sponsors, we’re committed to extending Brekkie in a Bag to support even more schools in farming communities in 2024.

We are pleased to confirm that Sanitarium and The Big Little Dairy Company have generously agreed to support Brekkie in a Bag in first semester 2024 and we are actively seeking further support to extend the program and ensure we can keep up with an increasing demand.

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Help farming kids with free healthy breakfasts

With the help of our donors, partners and sponsors, we’re committed to extending Brekkie in a Bag to support even more schools in farming communities in 2024.