Heavy machinery, working with large animals, farm vehicles, chemicals – all are risks that need to be managed effectively on farms, but it’s going to take the whole sector working together to “design harm out of the system for good”, industry leader Lindy Nelson says.
Wairarapa farmer Nelson chairs the Agricultural Leaders’ Health and Safety Action Group (Safer Farms), which has launched the hard-hitting Half-Arsed Stops Here campaign and Farm Without Harm strategy.
“These make it clear that, as a community, the sector is focused on re-thinking how we approach health, safety and wellbeing and how we can learn from each other,” Nelson said.
“It is also about recognising that the old way of looking at safety was to put all the onus on the individual. But what we need, as a community, is to be moving to a culture of care, where we design harm out of the system.”
Nelson, who was also a founder of the Agri-Women’s Development Trust, said that includes providing the capacity for people to “fail safely”.
“A culture of care recognises we are human,” she said. “We get distracted and we become fatigued – so we need to build more capacity into our safety systems.
“Just one example of that would be having crush protection devices fitted to quad bikes and side-by-sides. Used in conjunction with a seatbelt and a helmet, that provides a ‘place to survive’ in the event of a vehicle rolling.”
Safer Farms called on all farmers and rural leaders to come onboard with the Half-Arsed Stops Here campaign. Printable campaign materials can be downloaded from the Farm Without Harm website. These include workplace posters, gate and yard signs, vehicle stickers and digital titles, as well as resources that can be edited to reflect an organisation’s brand.
Safer Farms is also running monthly toolbox meetings where farmers share what is working for them in terms of keeping their people safe, and farmers and rural leaders are encouraged to sign up to a pledge in support of the vision of Farm without Harm.
“Systems” thinkers from all across the sector can also join Agri Think Tanks, to be launched this year, to share their ideas on solutions that design harm out of farming.
“In a caring culture, you identify the risks on your farm, and if you can, you eliminate them,” Nelson said.
“If you can’t eliminate them, then you isolate them, and if neither is possible then, you take steps to minimise them. You monitor for any change and communicate to and share updates with everyone who needs to know.
“To really bring about meaningful change, we need to be prepared to have some tough conversations with each other. We need to smash through old beliefs and the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude.
“It’s going to take time, but this is what the Farm without Harm strategy is about – supporting and guiding the sector through cultural change. We need farmers to be talking with and asking questions of other farmers, sharing what works and putting it into action.
“Farming organisations like DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ, along with Safer Farms, are developing a comprehensive range of accessible resources that farmers can use and tailor to their farms and their people.
“And there are very good examples of individual farmers and larger corporations that have developed strong cultures of care. There’s no intellectual property on safety. We are seeing a great willingness for people to share their ideas, experiences and learnings.
“This is farming’s call to action. Join us now. Sign up to the pledge, share the Half-Arsed Stops Here message, join our toolbox meetings and tell us what you can bring to the Agri Think Tanks.
“When many more of us stand up to reject complacency, take real responsibility and not wait for others to take the lead, that’s when others will sit up and listen too, and be prepared to learn from one another.
“The resources are there and we need the willingness to change to be there. For too long our approach to health and safety in farming has been ‘half-arsed’ and too many people continue to get injured or be killed. The answer to ending that lies with all of us.”
Half-Arsed Stops Here because…
According to the Agricultural Leaders’ Health and Safety Action Group:
• More people die in accidents on farms than any other New Zealand industry. In 2022 there were 13 farming workplace fatalities, not including suicides.
• More than 1,000 children are injured in a farm setting in New Zealand every year.
• A farm vehicle remains a factor in most fatal accidents.
• The annual toll of people getting hurt on farms also includes crushing, impact, biting and other injuries involving livestock, hand injuries, falls from height or slip-and-trips on the same level, burns, chemical contact, being hit by heavy moving or falling objects, becoming trapped in machinery or equipment, electrical shocks, and explosions.
• When people are stressed, accidents happen: almost 25% of accidents on farm happen when people are stressed, tired or anxious.
• Lifting and strain injuries, particularly lower back and spine, account for the highest number of farm-related injury claims.
More: For details on signing the pledge see farmwithoutharm.org.nz. For resources around safer farming, see saferfarms.co.nz. If you are interested in being part of an Agri Think Tank, email firstname.lastname@example.org