A three-year DairyNZ and ACC project is underway to identify ways to reduce the occurrence of sprains and strains on-farm.
DairyNZ Senior Scientist Callum Eastwood said for this particular project, the focus is on engineering solutions and farm system changes rather than behaviour change.
Farm system changes might include practices such as once-a-day or flexible milking, which might reduce injury risk through less fatigue, and less time spent outside on wet and dark mornings.
“With picking up calves from paddocks, is the trailer fit for purpose or does the person have to lift the animal over a high side? With feeding calves, is there an option where people don’t have to carry buckets of milk? We’re seeking solutions to those kind of risks,” Callum said.
There are around 40,000 people working on New Zealand dairy farms, and spring represents a key risk period for sprains and strains.
DairyNZ general manager farm performance Sharon Morrell says looking after their people is a priority for many farmers throughout the country, but issues often arise particularly during busy periods.
“Sprains and strains represent around 40 percent of dairy farm injuries, with the highest risk period occurring between August and October. This coincides with peak calving on most farms, where we often see increased working hours and fatigue,” she said.
ACC established the Injury Prevention Grants programme several years ago. As part of a drive to reduce the incidence and costs of sprains and strains, last November it called for expressions of interest in initiatives under innovation and system capability development categories. Agriculture was named as one of five high risk sectors.
ACC workplace safety injury prevention manager Virginia Burton-Konia said reducing the rate of injuries in the dairy sector would have a positive impact on the wellbeing of people working in the sector, and a safe and well workforce means more productive businesses.
DairyNZ had already done some work around reducing fatigue as part of its ‘creating great future workplaces’ campaign. The organisation is pleased ACC has agreed to provide $900,000 co-funding to go alongside $150,000 from the DairyNZ levy, for this new project.
The first goal is to build up an accurate profile of sprain and strain injuries, and how they’ve occurred, Callum said
“Are they things where you hurt your back and you definitely can’t carry on, or have people strained their wrist or knee but they’re working through it and potentially making the injury worse.”
Most farmers could name key risk areas “but we don’t want to assume we know the causes of such injuries.
“There’s obvious things like picking up calves in the paddock, but injuries can happen during silage making, or slipping and twisting ankles while out in the paddock. During milking it tends to be more repetitive strain injuries.
“The key part is having some ready to go and cost-effective solutions by the end of the project. That might be something that farmers could invest in or something simple they could do themselves, such as making changes to the set-up of their calving shed.”
DairyNZ has partnered with primary sector assurance programme specialists QCONZ and 50 farm assessments have already been completed.
“We’ve talked to farmers about where they’ve seen injuries occur in the past, and their workplace practices. And at the end of the Spring we’ll go back to those 50 farms and talk about what happened through calving, and whether and how any injuries happened,” said Callum.
If injury rates can be cut, it doesn’t just mean less pain and less cost, but could also help with staff satisfaction and retention as well as more productive businesses.