Farm safety a top priority

Pic of veggie farmer Catherine Velisha and Werribee lawyer Neil Salvador (this photo was taken before masks become mandatory in Victorian workplaces). Photo by Damjan Janevski. 211623_03

Two Werribee residents, a farmer and a lawyer, have teamed up to help teach agricultural businesses about workplace safety.

Neil Salvador, an RMIT University lecturer and workplace safety lawyer, has joined forces with vegetable farmer Catherine Velisha to develop a hands-on education and training program for the industry’s business leaders and owners.

The course will take place on-site at Ms Velisha’s Werribee South farm.

Ms Velisha is the managing director of her family’s third-generation horticulture business, Velisha Farms.

Ms Velisha said that when she took over from her father, she inherited what she would describe as “a fear-based approach to compliance”.

“Compliance was basically seen as hard to understand, a cost burden and another piece of red tape that makes the viability of farming all the more tenuous,” she said.

“To this day, I don’t think that view is uncommon.

“However, engaging with WorkSafe Victoria I have come to change my attitude towards compliance.

“It actually bolsters your business. It reduces risk, increases staff loyalty and it puts your business in a position where you can act as a leader – in your sector and in your community.”

This month, the state government introduced industrial manslaughter laws, which will hold employers – including those in the farming sector – criminally responsible for negligent conduct resulting in death.

Ms Velisha said she was excited to start using her farm’s knowledge of compliance to help lead the industry to better workplace practices.

“I would really encourage others to see the new manslaughter laws as an opportunity to improve their business,” she said.

Mr Salvador said the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in Victoria should serve as “a wake-up call” for the sector.

“Currently, the agriculture industry represents three per cent of Australia’s GDP, and is responsible for close to 25 per cent of workplace deaths in the country,” Mr Salvador said.

“Over the past five years, Victoria has been averaging 37 workplace fatalities per year.

“The agriculture industry in Victoria has been averaging more than 12 deaths.”

See for details of the training program.