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Farmer health is about growing awareness

Blog post | 19 Jul 2018

If you are one of the 300,000 Australians who earn their living from the land, you'll know how difficult and uncertain farming can be.

There are health and safety issues, such as working long hours in the sun, or with animals, chemicals and farm machinery. And a drought or severe flooding can affect a farming community for years, including the mental health of its families.

This year's National Farm Safety Week (16 – 22 July) aims to raise awareness of the health issues that face the farmers who put food on Australian tables.

Mental health and stress

A tough, sometimes isolated life — and often financial insecurity — can challenge the mental health of farmers. And as well as the stress and uncertainty of farming, it can be difficult to find the same mental health resources in rural and remote areas that you would expect to find in towns and cities. Recognising when help and support are needed, either for yourself or for someone else, is very important.

Kids' safety on farms

Growing up on a farm can be a great start to a child's life, but it also has its hazards. Each year in Australia, around 5 or 6 children drown in farm dams and water bodies, including creeks, troughs and irrigation channels. Frequently this occurs when a toddler wanders away from supervision without being noticed. Kids in farming communities — and their visitors — often play where farmers work and without a safe play area, they risk dangers from farm machinery, motorcycles, horses and other farm animals.

Injuries and accidents

Almost 22,000 people were hospitalised after being injured on farms between 2010 and 2015. Just getting around the farm can be dangerous, and riding motorcycles and quad bikes is a particularly risky part of farm life. Injuries involving motorcycles and quad bikes accounted for 42% of hospitalisations in children up to 14 years old. Quad bikes are not stable vehicles and are not safe for use in all terrains, says the National Centre for Farmer Health. Users should always wear a helmet and protective clothing, and children should never be allowed near quad bikes.

Lung conditions and respiratory diseases

Farmers and farm families are more likely to be exposed to dusts from pollens, animal dander, grain and hay, which can irritate airways and trigger asthma in susceptible people. Organic dust toxic syndrome ('farmer's fever') is common and is caused by inhaling mouldy dust. 'Farmer's lung' affects people whose immune system is sensitive to fungal spores inhaled from mouldy hay, straw, grain or compost. Farmers who experience flu-like symptoms should always tell their doctor if they have been exposed to dust.

Getting medical help in a rural environment

Farming communities often find that living in a remote location means accessing health services is challenging. Having a contact list of health and emergency services is important. Phone and online support can also be helpful. When searching on the internet for health services, it is important to use reputable sources, such as healthdirect's service finder. You can also call healthdirect's free 24-hour helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) for health advice and non-urgent assistance.

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