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Health and safety on farms

Nick Ledgard, New Zealand Tree Grower November 2015.

There has been much talk about health and safety on farms lately. When the topic hit the headlines a few weeks ago, I commented to my wife that the media should relate what has happened in the forestry industry – as it sets an example for what should happen in farming. Only a few years ago, after a horrendous series of fatal accidents, forestry took the health and safety bull by the horns, changed core practices accordingly and significantly reduced accident rates. In my mind the process involved some simple lessons which could easily be copied by farming.

When viewpoints differ, it often pays to take a step back and look for common ground. With health and safety there are some basic points which we would all agree with. One is that, regardless of our views on current accident rates and causes, everyone would agree that if we are discussing the problem in five years’ time, we would want the rate to be less than it is today.

The second agreement would be that acceptable health and safety practice is so often just exercising common sense. The problem there is that the level of common sense is not evenly spread between individuals. Some possess less than others. Regular common sense reminders serve to reduce that disparity, and in so doing reduce accident rates.

Common sense lessons

Let us take just two common sense lessons from the forestry health and safety route. The first, and most logical, step was to identify the operational areas where most accidents occur. In forestry it was harvesting, particularly during tree felling and recovery. Today it is a much safer operation thanks to a significant change in traditional work practices and mentalities. In farming, it has been known for many years that a well recognised danger area concerns the use of quad bikes. Despite this, have today’s farmers changed work practices and mentalities sufficiently to make that as safe as it should be?

A second introduction which has improved forestry safety is tail-gate meetings. This entails workers spending a few minutes every morning around the tail-gate of the work truck before they start work. At these short gatherings, the tasks for the day are stated, any potential hazards raised and discussed, and agreement reached as to how these are to be managed. ‘Ah-ha’ say some farmers,‘we cannot do that, as we often work alone’.

To me, such a response reveals a rather blinkered approach. You might be working alone that day, but that does not mean that you are the only person on the farm or the only one interested in what you are doing. Your tail-gate meeting should be talking to other farm workers before you set off, or to your wife or husband over the breakfast table. Seriously, tell them what you intend to do that day and the steps you will be taking
to look after yourself. Above all, do not stop there – get them to tell you their tasks for the day, even if you know them already, and comment appropriately.

Reminders

How many partners of people who have injured or killed themselves have thought afterwards they only wish they known what was being planned for that day. They would have, for example, reminded them perhaps not to take a certain short cut on a wet day such as this.

A week ago, my good wife asked me what I was doing that day. ‘Firewood’ I replied. ‘Well then,’ she commented ‘make sure you wear all your chainsaw gear, and if I do not hear from you in a couple of hours, I will be over to check’. Just that brief conversation was enough to make me think twice about what I was doing – whether she turned up in two hours or not.

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