The Manawatu-based Hopkins Farming Group is further developing aspects of its business, particularly around human resources (HR).
“Our aim is to have simple systems which help us meet our compliance obligations around HRand assist us in achieving good results,” says Ricky Tuck, Hopkins Group farms supervisor.
In total, the Hopkins Group has 12 farms and 70 employees – with most of the farms ranging from 650 to 1000 cows and three to six staff. The exception is a Hawke’s Bay farm of 1800 cows and a team of 11.
"It's about keeping safe and making sure everyone gets home at night. It is not just about following rules."
Their HR practices have evolved as a result of both compliance changes and seeking to do things better. Timesheets are one example.
“A few years ago timesheets were monthly and only had the number of hours worked each day,” says Justine Croft, office manager. “Now, the weekly timesheet includes when they’ve started and stopped for each breakfast and lunch break, along with any extra hours done.”
The Monday to Sunday timesheets are kept at the dairy shed for staff to fill out as they go and are expected to be signed daily by the farm manager and staff member.
“Each pay period we assess the hours worked against minimum hourly wage requirements and make top-ups if required,” says Justine.
“Differences between hours worked on each farm also creates good discussions between managers with regard to managing teams, rosters and annual leave,” says Ricky.
Health and safety
Within the last 12 months, a team member from each farm has been allocated the role of health and safety representative.
“That person is not the manager and, on some farms, not the 2IC – they are there to help the farm team effectively manage health and safety. Farms have regular team meetings and, as part of that agenda, the health and safety rep takes the team through the hazard register to isolate or remove hazards listed on the whiteboard,” says Ricky.
All near-misses and accidents are recorded and the health and safety reps meet as a committee every two months to discuss issues and hazards on their farms and look for trends they can address.
“For example, one farm had an issue with cows kicking in the shed. The incident numbers were higher than the other farms, so we went to look at what was causing it. There was an issue with the kick rail at the back not being built correctly, we lowered it by 100mm and haven’t had an issue with cow kicks since,” says Ricky.
“It’s a simple example of how discussion between health and safety reps identified an issue that was abnormal, so we looked into it and fixed it.”
Hopkins Group also uses an external health and safety consultant who visits each farm twice a year and holds an annual meeting with all staff on-farm.
“This external input gives us confidence that we are keeping up with accepted good practice and provides an independent view on the approach to health and safety on each farm,” say Justine.
Each farm has an individual health and safety plan specific to that farm, but also incorporates the company-wide code of conduct which encompasses general guidelines such as helmet use and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Changing team culture
Building on a positive culture around health and safety helped get the team onboard with changes.
“We put it to the team that it’s about ‘keeping safe’ and making sure everyone gets home at night. It is not just about following rules,” says Ricky. “Taking it away from being a compliance thing to being about keeping staff safe made it personal.”
Therefore, helmet use on-farm has become a way of life.
“People just do it as a matter of course. They actually pressure each other about it and the interesting thing is at times I have even seen people milking with their helmet on.”
Ricky says timesheets and health and safety have to be kept at the forefront. “We keep health and safety at the front of their minds, we talk about it a lot as teams, so it helps it become a habit.”
This season the group has started rolling out a new process around accommodation for their 45 houses, moving to tenancy agreements for new employees.
“All staff rent their house, so we have a tenancy agreement that we’re putting in place with staff at the moment. Using the tenancy agreement from MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment), we take a bond and place it with MBIE,” says Justine.
- Timesheets provide clarity, a basis for monitoring hours and ensure minimum wage is met.
- Health and safety initiatives have resulted in fewer accidents on-farm.
- Greater safety prevention means fewer days/weeks with ‘one person down’.
- Clear accommodation process gives clarity to employees.
- Team take ownership for their health and safety, timesheets and housing.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy October 2014