Cotton harvest safety: check and check again 26 Mar 2015

As cotton growers Australia-wide get ready for picking, they are being reminded to make safety a priority in the lead up to one of the most dangerous periods of the year.

Injury claims cost the cotton industry over $5 million each year, with the key risks of death or injury being motor vehicles (including utes, cars, quads, trucks) and electricity, according to a recent report by the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP).

Awareness of these risks is high at Jonathan Mengel’s property at Nangwee, near Dalby in the Darling Downs region of Queensland, who says it’s a sobering reminder to hear about incidents and near-misses through the media or at local events.

“We’ve been lucky that we’ve had no issues ourselves, but we wouldn’t get through a season without hearing about someone hitting a power line, or knocking one down,” he said.

Attributing this safety success to luck is probably misleading as Mr Mengel’s company takes safety very seriously.

“We have an induction program for our staff, which we got off the Cotton Australia website and modified. It basically explains the way our machinery is operated and associated dangers, and what we expect of our employees. 

“We go through it when our staff come on farm for harvest, when we can have up to eight casual workers, and give them a chance to ask any questions or make concerns known.

“We’ll also have smoko together in the morning each day of harvest while waiting for the dew to dry, which is a good chance to discuss specific risks in the paddocks we will pick that day. We’re also in contact while everyone is picking, reminding each other of hazards and just taking a lot of care.

“Even before harvest starts, we spend a lot of time ensuring all machinery is in safe, working order, and then we have a maintenance person on the ground throughout harvest to ensure any ongoing maintenance is done efficiently and correctly,” he said.

Cotton growers, managers and workers all have responsibilities to ensure safety is foremost during the cotton harvest, when fatigue can be an added factor. As Jonathon Mengel puts it, everyone should always think before they act.

“It’s a busy time, and you do have to be careful with tempers fraying and how you deal with problems,” he said.

“As well as the impact on our workers and their families if an incident occurs, the pick will essentially be over, which racks up costs that can be significant. Accidents are just not an option,” he concluded.

Cotton Australia has a range of Workplace Health and Safety resources available for growers in the CottonSafe section of its website ( and on

For more information about the PIHSP, or to download a copy of the report into injury claims and associated costs for agriculture, Mapping work health and safety risks in the primary industries, visit