When nature calls, it’s hard to ignore.
If it’s the bladder, it’s easier for blokes. They can wander off behind a tree and add some moisture to the ground.
But what if it’s the bowels? And what if it’s a woman and she’s having her period? What if she’s suffering from endometriosis?
Federated Farmers Vice-President and health and safety spokesperson Karen Williams says it’s past time these sorts of issues were confronted by the primary sector.
“Feedback to our surveys shows that recruiting staff is a major issue for many farmers and growers. We’re seeing a lot more women on the land now in active roles. Access to ablutions is an issue for them.
“Guys have probably tolerated substandard facilities at shearing sheds and the like, but I know from comments directly from rousies, who are often women, that the lack of toileting facilities or in fact clean facilities is a real problem for them. In this day and age, it’s just not acceptable. If we want to attract good staff, to retain them and show them we value them – and that’s whether they’re permanent or come in as a contractor – then suitable toilet facilities need to be available,” Karen said.
The issue was raised after Federated Farmers received an email from a member who preferred to remain anonymous, expressing concern about the lack of ablutions facilities on farms – particularly arable farms. And another staff member who has friends who travel to pick fruit at orchards and grapes at vineyards as ‘grey nomads’ said they often express shock at the facilities for workers.
“They felt like they were being tested – if they couldn’t hack it, they were meant to leave,” the staff member said.
Karen and Mick Williams’ farm has two shearing sheds, neither of which has a toilet. “When I first moved onto the farm, I suppose I didn’t really think about it because I’d be going off to my day job,” Karen said.
When their operation took on contract onion seed picking and contracted gangs of workers, they’d race around trying to find portaloos to hire – and they were expensive too.
The Williams found it was much more cost-effective to buy a portaloo, and take it to where it’s needed on a trailer.
“So you can move it down to the wool shed or around the silos, depending where the workers are at the time. It’s great for the teenagers’ parties at the wool shed or by the river; you can ensure you’ve got the right sort of ablutions.”
“As well as providing a toilet, there are softer management issues to consider. It shouldn’t need to take a worker to come up to the boss to say ‘look, this is happening with me today’. And the person in charge shouldn’t ask questions when someone needs to head to the loo a third or fourth time that day.” “A bit of discrete tolerance by employers would go a long way”.
Worksafe requires that workplaces must have toilets, drinking water and handwashing facilities “sufficient to meet the needs of your workforce”, and taking into account the size, location and nature of the workplace and the nature of the work being carried out.
“But beyond compliance, it’s the right thing to do,” Karen said.
“By not providing solutions to these issues we risk turning off a significant portion of our workforce.”
Hemp hurd a new composting toilet solution
An alternative to a portaloo down at the shearing shed or farm hub is a composting toilet.
For a standard toilet it’s not so much the toilet itself that involves a lot of expense, but the plumbing and septic tank that goes with it, Feds Vice-President Karen Williams says.
Composting toilets get around that. Canterbury-based company Green Loo says on top of savings from a significantly lower initial investment and the opportunity to install lower capacity water tanks, your water bill will be reduced. Dry composting toilets are another option.
Carbon-based material or a bulking agent such as softwood shavings or peat should be added daily or with each use. This gives the proper carbon-nitrogen mix, helps aerate the compost and prevents compacting. The compost can be used as an organic fertilizer, Green Loo says.
Karen recently toured Carfields’ wool and hemp mill in Christchurch. She was interested to learn that hemp hurd (the material left over once the bast fibres are removed from the hemp stem) can be used in composting toilets.
Hemp hurd has commonly been used for animal bedding at the like but bales of hurd are now also being sold for use in composting toilets.
“Hemp is turning out to be something of a shining light, with a blend of wool and hemp being used in carpets and other products, and the edible seeds used in some medicinal products. And now they’re using the hurd too – I think it’s great that another use has been found for this arable by-product,” Karen said.