Thursday, December 7, 2023

Better safe than sorry

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Sheep and beef farmer Ian Matthews says he was fortunate to walk away uninjured after his quad bike rolled on-farm. Today, he and wife Sandra have a crash protection device fitted.
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Farm vehicles, particularly bikes and tractors, handling stock and fatigue are all among risks Ian and Sandra have identified and put measures in place to manage on their 536ha (500 effective) property near Gisborne.  

Ian, who was in an accident a few years ago, says he was driving down a steep place where he shouldn’t have gone and his bike rolled. He wasn’t injured, but says “I was very lucky not to be.” 

“Sandra is our health and safety manager and a very strong advocate for safe working practices,” Ian said.

“She was very keen to get rollover protection for our farm bike and we’re pleased it is now in place.

“We had one on a bike many years ago and researched bike manufacturer articles and they were not overly keen on them. We talked it over each time we upgraded our bike and each time we were discouraged. We had discussions, read literature and recently decided we would install one – better to be safe than sorry if there was an accident.”

He says wearing helmets on farm bikes and using seatbelts in vehicles, where they are fitted, are hard and fast rules on the farm. 

“Some people get around their farms without helmets or seatbelts, but my experience shows accidents can happen easily. They think they are all right in a side-by-side, but you should always use a helmet and seatbelt too,” he said.

“A casual staff member who worked here had never had to wear a helmet when working on a farm but every time she needed to get on a farm bike, she went and got her helmet, without being reminded – which was great.”

History is important to the Matthews, who have farmed together for 28 years. The land has been farmed by Ian’s family for over 110 years.

“We recognise that making farms a safe place to live and work requires change,” Sandra said.

Five years ago, they replaced their wooden cattle yard structure, built by Ian’s grandfather, with a modern system.

“Ian’s grandfather built it from old railway sleepers. It was built to last and it had, right through to our generation,” she said.

“But when we were weighing our bulls, I would be in with them and also opening a heavy wooden gate that almost fell on me. We completely replaced it with a new yard with stock-free areas for handling, so we don’t have to be in with the cattle. 

“There is a forcing pen that pushes stock forward – that has made a huge difference in terms of safety.”

The Matthews mostly farm alone, bringing in help when needed. They have a thorough process for inducting casual workers and contractors to ensure they understand and adhere to their health and safety policies. 

“We do the induction at the same time that we do their contracts,” Sandra said.

“We go through our farm rules and requirements. We find out about their experience, but we also follow up on that.

“For instance, no one will use a farm vehicle or equipment until we have accompanied them to use it and ascertained that they are fully competent. It is very unusual for a casual worker to use a vehicle on their own here though – they would usually be going out with one of us.”

The Matthews have a farm map with hazards marked on it, and if new hazards arise, such as a track being slippery or damaged, that is flagged up in the farm diary.

These are also used when working with contractors on the farm to ensure they are aware of any risks they need to manage.

“The contractors all have their own health and safety policies now, and are very happy to sit down with us,” Ian said.

“Between us, we make sure we all need to know everything we need to know. We also make sure we have cellphone contact with them and know where they are working at all times. 

“We have helicopters come in to do spraying and we do the same with those contractors. They have very strict health and safety procedures. We don’t have wires running across the farm, but they are along the edge of the road.”

Running the farm together for much of the year, Sandra also delivers programmes around the country for Agri-Women’s Development Trust

“We are very aware of the need to manage fatigue,” she said.

“When there are just the two of you running the farm, there is always work to be done. But we are careful to avoid working hard-out 10-hour days every day – which is a trap some farmers fall into.”

They are also aware that serious accidents on farms often involve older farmers doing jobs they have done many times before.

“We are both in our mid-50s and as we get older, we know we need to be particularly careful. When you are rushing to do things, it only takes a momentary lapse and an accident can happen,” she said. 

“There are times of the year, for instance during shearing and docking, when we are working long hours, but we make sure we take breaks and overall get adequate rest.

“We were both feeling a bit burnt-out recently, so we took a week off and had a staycation, just pottering around the house, enjoying some R&R and spending time together. We recognised, from a health and safety point of view, that we needed to take a break.”

Ian and Sandra won a CPD in a competition run by WorkSafe New Zealand and the Rural Exchange (REX) radio show.

The video can be viewed here:

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