By Karen Williams, Federated Farmers Vice-President and workplace health and safety spokesperson
Last year we lost at least eight farmers or workers visiting the farm to do a job (figures to September). The year before that 20 people died on the farm, and 15 in 2019.
These are not just statistics, this is the end of someone’s life, it is the end of someone’s mum or dad, son or daughter coming home, it is the end of a family’s hopes, dreams and aspirations. And unless we feel the loss personally, we have a habit of making it okay for ourselves with comments like, ‘it’s just part of the job’, ‘accidents happen’, ‘wrong place, wrong time’.
My belief is that we can and should do better than this.
Last week a significant family member rolled his quad bike with no roll over protection. Later that day I sent him the roll-over protection cash back offer ACC are currently offering in conjunction with Safer Farms (see page 4).
It was the same week we debated at Feds whether we would do a media release to remind our farmers (and the contractors they use) to take a day off if they’ve been going hard for several weeks in a row. There was resistance that we shouldn’t meddle in other people’s businesses, and that farmers just want to get the job done. But at what cost? And whose cost? To quote the words of a wise Waikato farmer who weighed in on the discussion, “A full day off now is not going to materially affect the current harvest, but it might mean another 50 years of life to some of our young harvesting people/drivers”.
At Federated Farmers our core purpose is to ‘Empower Farmers’, with a strategic objective to ‘support vibrant rural communities’, and a commitment to ‘support farmer and family wellbeing and help our members to manage and mitigate risk’. To me, this represents more than just words on the page, this represents a much needed ‘culture of care’, and a commitment to ensuring we value our people’s health, safety, and wellbeing first.
At Feds we have a mantra that we’re pretty good at saying out loud and nearly as good at putting into practice, and that is in order of priority – Family, Farm, then Feds. This means that when things are not going well with the family or yourself, there is a culture to take the time you need to sort it out. This means that when something is not going well on the farm, there is a supported acceptance that you will take the time out from Feds to sort it out.
Despite all the limitations that you juggle on the farm, do you think you could embrace this mantra or something similar?
Let’s give ourselves permission to value our people first. I’m going to say that again, give – ourselves – permission – to – value – our – people – first.
It’s not soft, it’s not uniquely feminine, and it should not be inspired from a place of fear of compliance and prosecution. It is because it is the right thing to do. The last paddock of maize will be there tomorrow, the sheep will be available for drenching tomorrow, and the irrigator can be shifted after breakfast tomorrow. If you keep operating at this pace, will you, your staff or your contractor be here tomorrow?
The latest print version of FedsNews, and recent articles on this website, have a health, safety, and wellbeing focus. We’ve prepared a variety of articles and stories, some showcasing tools that will minimise risk or enhance outcomes in an emergency, such as the Zoleo. There is a safety focused farming interview with Lindy Nelson, Chair of Safer Farms, who talks about changing the culture and striving for farming without harm, and a frank discussion with WorkSafe Chief Executive Phil Parkes, who is less obsessed with compliance and prosecution and more interested in developing a culture of ‘better work’.
The series of articles are designed to be provocative and I’m hoping it will jolt us out of our complacency that “she’ll be right”.