Working on massive farming operations in the United States highlighted the importance of New Zealand’s focus on health and safety for Dale McAlwee.
Dale, Aorangi FMG Young Farmer of the Year, grew up near Timaru on the farm that’s been in his family for over a century. After gaining a Bachelor of Agricultural Science, he headed to the US for a year. He is now assistant manager at Singletree Dairies, a 2500 cow farm five minutes north east of Ashburton.
“In the US, I was working in massive farming operations for the wheat harvest. There were very large staff teams and the main focus was on employing experienced people who were expected to already have the knowledge to work safely with heavy machinery.
“At Singletree, there is an emphasis on ensuring people are well trained for all the tasks they need to do, including using vehicles and machinery and working with livestock – and that’s ongoing. There’s also a focus on ‘shared responsibility’ and everyone knowing the rights and wrongs and how to mitigate risk.
“We are very strong on maintenance of machines and vehicles. If there are any problems with these, staff are expected to report it right away and to stop using the vehicle/machine until it can be checked or repaired. We only have one quad bike on farm and that has crush protection fitted.”
Dale says working with large animals is a critical risk and it’s important to consider the dangers of zoonoses as part of that.
“Leptospirosis is the biggest concern,” he says. “We make sure all the animals are vaccinated but that isn’t enough on its own. You need to have a focus on good hygiene and make sure you provide facilities for people to wash properly.
Dale says fatigue is another risk factor which farmers need to be aware of, on their own behalf and that of workers – and sometimes people need to be reminded of the importance of managing that.
“It’s a big issue, particularly in spring. You need to keep an eye on people, talk with them and check in on them, be aware of individual personalities and recognise if there is a drop in enthusiasm or motivation – which might indicate they are tired or struggling in any way.
“If someone is tired, they’ll need to take a break and get some rest but if it’s caused by doing too much out of work – such as socialising – then you need to have that conversation about striking the right balance. You don’t have control over people’s lives or social lives but they do have a responsibility to turn up for work in good shape and if their lifestyle is affecting their work, then it’s not appropriate.”