Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Dairy farm staff canvassed on milk-shed safety

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Researcher wants to know how safe workers feel in a sometimes risky environment.
Deborah Rhodes says milking sheds have always had their own culture.
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How safe do you feel in a milking shed?

Golden Bay dairy farmer Deborah Rhodes is keen to find out, as part of her Master of Health Research into safety climate in dairy sheds.

Rhodes says the research, through Victoria University, is the first of its kind in New Zealand and she is urging dairy farm staff to contribute by completing a survey.

“Safety climate is specific to what people think about safety related to their training, the policies and practices, in what they do and where they work.

“It is what they all think as whole that evolves the safety culture of a workplace, and safety climate can indicate what behaviours could occur.”

She also wants to determine if there is a difference between what employees perceive to be dangerous, compared with managers or employers.

Rhodes said milking sheds have always had their own culture. It is where people come together throughout the day, cows congregate for milking, and is an area with many different hazards.

“It’s everything from boiling hot water to chemicals, to medications and the risk of stab wounds, contacts with antibiotics and all of the issues of interactions with animals, from crush injuries to kicks and scrapes.

“I was particularly interested in understanding what people perceive to be their risk within the dairy shed.”

Rhodes, who farms with her husband Tim in Collingwood, got into dairying in 2010 when both decided on career changes. After farm stints in Oamaru and North Canterbury, they eventually moved to Golden Bay and bought their own farm about eight years, ago.

They now milk 125 cows, converting from twice-a-day milking to once.

“It’s taken a huge load of stress out of being able to owner-operate without any staff and allowed me to go back to academia,” Rhodes said.

With a pharmaceutical and nursing background, Rhodes decided to return Victoria University and study for a postgraduate diploma last year, specialising in workplace health and safety.

“My focus was in the dairy industry and looking at why there is a stable level of harm occurring in the industry. That hasn’t significantly decreased over a period of time.”

“ACC is still getting significant reporting of harm and it’s costing quite a lot of money.”

This year, she was encouraged to pursue her master’s.

As part of the research, Rhodes is sending out a survey, with support from DairyNZ and Federated Farmers, to dairy workers and employers.

“The survey needs to get in front of workers as much as it does managers or employers. It’s anonymous and can be done on your phone.

“Most of the harm happens in the shed. It might not be reported or it’s not bad enough that some might be off on ACC. But nevertheless it is still occurring and from a multitude of different hazards.”

The data will be used to help understand the full extent of the safety problem in dairying.

Results will be categorised into seven different areas, such as management safety priority to ensure that workers trust in the safety systems in place, and safety justice.

“Safety justice is feeling you can report something and you are not going to get blamed for it and told you’re a dumbass.”

The survey can be found on the university’s website.

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