Australian farmers with a disability are being encouraged to connect with their peers to aid their return to work, despite funding challenges for support services.
AgrAbility Australia is a network of more than 60 farmers with a disability that helps with everything from machinery modification to coping in the bush.
Farm Safety Officer Kerri-Lynn Peachey said when farmers were faced with returning to work after a severe injury or illness, many did not realise they did not have to go it alone.
“Farmers don’t give up easy so talking to others is a key for them to move forward,” she said.
“The network also gives them a opportunities to meet some of the members who have already come together to share ideas and encourage each other.”
As part of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety at the University of Sydney based in Dubbo, the network is backed by years of research and data on illness, injuries and deaths that occur on farms.
The information is used to help prevent accidents, but also to work in the aftermath of a serious injury or disability.
The resource includes information on coping with arthritis, diabetes and Parkinson disease through to back pain, brain injuries, amputations and spinal cord injuries.
And as the population of Australian farmers ages, many of the same principles are also being applied to older workers continuing on the farm.
But Ms Peachey said it had become difficult to find funding to maintain the service.
“It’s hard because our AgrAbility Australia network has been unfunded since about 2008,” she said.
“The funding is crucial to keep up with new technology and being able to deliver this to farmers and their farm workers.
“Each disability is different so no one solution fits everybody’s’ situation but with increasing technology, options for continuing in farming are always available.”
The group has applied for government funding in 2017.
The unzipped jacket that changed everything
When Bob Chaffey was injured while feedlotting calves in 1992, there was little information to help him return to work on his 800-hectare grazing and mixed cropping property near Tamworth in New South Wales.
“I put the concentrate in the feed mill and forgot to zip my jacket up when I went to shut off the grain chute and it picked up in the power take-off and that’s what did all the damage,” he said.
The damage was life-threatening and life-changing; he was pulled under the machine and both of his arms were torn off.
His wife Vickie said the injuries were unique, and there were few resources for her or the health professionals helping with his rehabilitation.
“Our doctor looked at Bob and she said … anybody that’s had this sort of high-level amputation, they’ve never survived,” she said.
“Because Bob is a one off, it was very hard to find equipment and basic things that Bob could use.”
Working with a physical therapist Mr Chaffey helped develop a prosthetic that could stand up to the rigours of the cattle yards, after breaking the first attempt.
“We had to learn how to modify tractors, quad runners — we modified the combine harvester,” he said.
Mr Chaffey said he was determined to get back to the job he loved and to contribute to his family again.
“I had children from two to seven-years-old and I never wanted them to see me as totally useless,” he said.
The kind of equipment modifications Mr and Mrs Chaffey have helped develop were now available to other farmers online.
Helping others modify and develop technology
Mr Chaffey said having access to that kind of service would have made his transition back to farm work much easier.
“With my injuries there wasn’t much that was very applicable to me,” he said.
“There’s a lot of good stuff in it now. There’s a history of it now, a manual compiled of all the different modifications that people can use.
“There’s always somethings that you can’t do easily. I do the things that I can do and the things that I can’t do I have to ask somebody else to do.”
That somebody else has often been his wife Vickie, or his employees, and he said AgrAbility could help with the stress families and businesses faced after a severe accident.
“More than half the family partnerships break down and I think possibly AgrAbility can help a lot in that way,” he said.
“They (farmers) can learn how to modify things just to make things easier for everybody in the family to be able to cope with things.”
He said it was also important that support services working with farmers familiarised themselves with the resources available online.