Time for a farm safety check-up?Industry Best Practice
National Farm Safety Week (18-24 July) raises awareness of farm safety issues, starting some difficult conversations around wellbeing and compliance while also offering online resources to help farmers manage the safety of their workplace.
For Kirby Richmond-Davis of Safe Ag Systems, Farm Safety week is an opportunity to highlight the importance of being proactive.
“We know this can be a reactive industry, where people wait until something bad happens on their own farm before they start making changes,” Kirby said. “You can even see it with how slow they are to move on Covid-19 safety compliance at the moment. Generally, people aren’t aware of what’s needed in terms of safety until they audit.”
This point between harvests is the best time for getting farm safety up to scratch, and Kirby has some advice for key areas to start.
Talk safety with the team
Building a ‘culture of safety’ – a workplace where everyone has safety awareness, keeps an eye out for potential issues and has a way of communicating it – can be as simple as a regular chat.
“This idea might be new to a lot of farmers, and they don’t know where to start,” Kirby said. “It can just start as a regular chat on a Friday afternoon about how the week went, flagging issues or hazards and things people weren’t comfortable with. It’s a discussion involving the whole team, and lets you look for solutions there and then and take visible corrective action.”
Kirby acknowledged that this can be challenging, and it might take a while before everyone is on board.
“You can’t force it,” Kirby said. “It will only really take hold if it’s allowed to happen organically, so it’s important to find the way that works best for you and your team.”
Consider mental health
“Making a workplace safe for mental health as well is new to a lot of farmers, so they don’t know where to start, or why it’s so important,” Kirby said. “Farms have their own unique workplace pressures, and it’s not always easy to tackle the mental health outcomes of this.”
When it comes to having conversations about mental health and checking in on your team, Kirby has a few tips for how to approach this.
“Don’t single people out, make it a personal conversation,” Kirby said. “If you’re concerned about someone who says they’re fine, give them a second chance to open up by asking again. If it’s a really tough topic, you might want to try talking in the car on a drive where you don’t have to make eye contact. It can take some of the pressure off.”
Make it simple for seasonal workers
Seasonal and unskilled workers who are new to the farm need extra attention when it comes to safety.
“These people may have never stepped on a farm in their lives, so farmers can’t assume they have the same common sense,” Kirby said. “Essentially, treat them like a child wandering around the farm and have systems in place to keep them safe. Look at a safe work procedure like a recipe on how to do things: How to use machinery, clean something properly, use chemicals safely, reminders to put the guard back on equipment, what PPE needs to be used, etc.”
Kirby also found that outlining these processes and using templates or checklists can also bring to light best-practice procedures that farmers and managers might not have known.
Start succession conversations
It’s not always easy to start talking about succession – and that’s where Kirby has found a third party can help.
“A business consultant or lawyer can sit at the kitchen table as a neutral expert,” Kirby said. “They come in, get the know the business and the key roles on the farm, identify the extent to which succession planning has taken place and ask the important questions.
“Even though you’re family, everyone will be coming at it differently. Overall it can be a big source of anxiety and uncertainty, which impacts mental health. We’ve found succession planning is something that younger parents are now already having with their children. I feel like the next generation are going to have succession planning discussions all the way through.”
Find the admin that works for you
Very few people love paperwork, but avoiding safety admin can have some serious consequences. It’s important to find a way of working that fits with your farm.
“Figure out what your needs are, and how you can make it as easy as possible to stay on top of things,” Kirby said. “For example, we know that a lot of farmers are handy enough to do their own machine maintenance, and they can keep their own records of this, doesn’t always need to be a mechanic. It’s a self-managed compliance.”
Kirby said digital tools such as Safe Ag Systems are designed to make safety admin easy for farmers.
“Because they can do inductions, checklists and other procedures on their phone with the app, it essentially brings the office to them,” Kirby said. “A lot of farmers don’t want to spend time sitting at the computer or filing paperwork. It’s about finding what works best to make safety easy on your farm.”
Learn more about Safe Ag Systems tools on their website.