“Working in a rural role but desk-based has really made me reflect on the very different health and safety challenges of being ‘hands on’ on farm,” says Kieran McCahon.
Kieran, Waikato/Bay of Plenty FMG Young Farmer of the Year, grew up on his family’s 1000-cow dairy farm on Northland’s Pouto Peninsula, near Dargaville.
He gained a Bachelor of Agricultural Science and a Master of Management, majoring in Agribusiness, as a DairyNZ scholar, and joined DairyNZ full time 18 months ago as a solutions and development specialist.
“I recently moved back to Northland to continue my role with DairyNZ, which also means getting more time on the farm,” he says. “Being in a desk-based role, in a very different health and safety environment, has really made me reflect on the risks on farm.
“As a rural professional, the greatest risk we often face is on our roads. After that, the next greatest risk I’m exposed to most regularly is probably maintaining good posture at my desk.”
In contrast, Kieran says that on farm if you make a mistake, there is a real risk of not coming home at night.
“There is a diverse range of risks on farm and the nature of these risks can change very quickly.
“There’s always a job to be done and with a long list to get through, we can often be in a hurry to get onto the next task at hand. That can take a mental and physical toll and the risks increase if you are fatigued and doing various things at once. Add in crunch times like calving, when people are working big hours and not getting enough sleep, and that can compound with multiple stresses. The result can mean you’re not quite focused on the task – and that can impact on how you manage risks.”
Kieran says failing to focus on health, safety and wellbeing for yourself and for your team will not only heighten the risk of accidents, but also impact on productivity and staff retention.
“Some people will carry an injury for the rest of their life and that can affect their ability to do the most effective job, their enjoyment of their job, and of life. Every niggle can flare up on a cold morning. Ultimately, it can lead to skilled and experienced people exiting the industry.
“Effective health and safety can be as simple as considering strategies to be more time efficient with your daily workload. For example, reviewing milking technique and implementing a maximum miking time (Max-T) can shed hours off your weekly workload. This can free up time and ensure the team is well rested, reducing fatigue and the risk of workplace accidents. This can also have flow on benefits for staff motivation and retention. It’s about having a culture and systems in place, so people are working smarter, not longer.”
The McCahon farm is very hilly compared to many dairy farms and Kieran says that has been identified as a key risk.
“There has always been a strong focus on awareness of that and the best ways to manage it. We’ll have conversations about the best way to approach jobs – for instance, some paddocks should only be accessed using two wheelers or only by people who are experienced and know the terrain very well to do certain jobs such as feeding out.
“These conversations can be very specific, down to the most appropriate vehicles to use when moving stock and which gates to use when feeding out in particular paddocks.
“Vehicle safety is a key priority too. We have a strong focus on making sure all vehicles are regularly serviced and in a safe condition and those driving them are well trained to use them safely. I personally have very strong views that if a vehicle has a seatbelt fitted, you should use it.”
Kieran says good observation and communication are critical to maintaining a safe workplace.
“You often hear people say health and safety is about common sense, but the number of accidents happening on farms shows that approach doesn’t work. Health and safety comes down to people. It’s all about building a culture within the team where people are comfortable identifying health and safety risks, communicating strategies to limit these risks and putting these into action.”