Farm health and safety about minds and behaviour, not form filling
Farming health and safety isn't about filling in endless forms, says Worksafe New Zealand inspector Christine Svensson.
Svensson said farmers were legally required to fill in only two documents: an accident register and a list of all the hazardous substances on a farm and few visits from a health and safety inspector resulted in a fine, or at worst prosecution.
During a visit to Wairewa Station, she found dryland sheep and beef farmers Anne and Philip Munro had strategies well embedded to minimise risks.
The 1134 hectare rolling to steep high-performance property at the back of Fairlie featured among the top 10 per cent of Waitrose ANZCO producers this year and the Munros have mapped in detail to show potential hazards such as terrain unsuitable for quad bikes, and pylons hazardous to aircraft. There is also the gravel road entering the property which Philip believes to be the greatest hazard.
"The road is our main hazard, I'd say," he said. "When I'm driving the tractor and towing the big silage wagon, I can't tell if anyone is behind me. Sometimes drivers get frustrated and try and pass and there is a very real potential for an accident. I am aware I am taking up a large proportion of the road.
"All farms have variables and must put systems in place. A great deal of discussion between Anne and I and our farm worker Geoff [Macfarlane] goes into how we do things. It's a building process of what doesn't work well and improving it. For example, we rebuilt the loading ramp for the cattle yards to make it more user-friendly. The stock truck drivers can now be confident they can load well."
A "statement of intent" had been written up for how they would like the farm to run, said Anne. The first point was to provide a safe and healthy workplace, she said.
"No farmer wants to be seen as unsafe. For instance we have put $72,000 into upgrading the cattle yards to make them safer, more efficient and user friendly for farmer and animal. We have weigh-scales which cost a lot of money and we have just scanned 200 cows in two days.
"We don't use dogs for the cattle," Philip said. "Bulls are a walk-away job. We have a couple of charolais bulls we don't get too close to. If any cattle are becoming high risk, they go."
Macfarlane said his first day on the job two and a half years ago was a steep learning curve.
"Driving the quad on the hill was an eye-opener," he said. But Philip went out ahead and I followed where he went fairly carefully."
"There are no-go zones for driving on the farm that are identified on the map," said Philip. "But a conversation with Geoff and showing him was more useful."
Another safety management strategy included ensuring contractors for spraying or fencing were familiar with the terrain of the farm and where the hazards were. This extended to hunters on night shoots, who must have a license, and helicopters carrying out spraying.
"We make sure the shearing shed is clean and comfortable. I'm strict on this," Philip said. "I'm fortunate that I was a shearer and know what standards should be."
"We put out signs when moving stock- never do without them. And avoid moving stock on Friday and Sunday evenings when people are heading to and from Lake Benmore. We take a planned approach to moving stock, but if everyone knows what the end result is there is no need to discuss this."
The Munros have made sure their farm tracks, a lot of which are on the hillsides, are wide and well maintained. They were extra careful on the upper tracks during winter, especially with the big silage-wagon, Philip said.
"It's a conditions-based decision and last year we got a new lighter feeding-out trailer, an option if conditions are too severe for the large wagon."
"Not having cell phone coverage on the farm is a concern," Anne said. "We each need to be in tune with where the others are. We worry about leaving Geoff on the farm by himself."
Svensson finished her inspection impressed and the Munros have passed with flying colours. Put a sign on the diesel tank, she said, otherwise it was looking excellent.
Being healthy and safe at work on a farm was in the minds and behaviour of farmers, not paperwork, Svensson said.
"It needs to be visible and part of everyday activity, not just an add- on and it requires everyone to be involved. It results in fewer injuries when people look out for one another."
"A farm health and safety plan does not need to be complex, it just needs to identify risks and record the steps you have put in place to manage and communicate these.
"What's important is thinking about the risks and thinking about what to do to manage these, and making sure everyone who needs to know this information does."