DairyNZ has a dynamic workplace. Our farms undertake seasonal research trials creating a unique set of risks because of complex sampling logistics, infrastructure, and machinery. Just like other commercial dairy farms they also need to ensure the daily management of cows, land, people, and environment is well looked after. Around 750 cows are milked across our Scott and Lye farms and each farm employs six full time staff due to the intensive work being carried out.
Our health, safety and wellbeing can significantly impact the way we live our lives and do our jobs. In both our personal and working environments we are making many decisions which have the potential to either improve or hinder our ability to be healthy, to be safe, and to be well. Although, all three of these components have different meaning we recognised that they are not mutually exclusive. We needed to focus on work practices which addressed risk around all three components.
Health is essentially about reducing exposure to harmful contaminates
Safety is about minimising accidents
Wellbeing is about creating a workplace where people can experience enjoyment and fulfilment.
More about our approach
Like all workplaces, dairy farms (including those owned and operated by DairyNZ) are balancing risk and productivity. The makeup of our workforce has a unique mix of knowledge, skills, experiences, time, and money. When we are limited by one (or many) of these resources, the decisions we make are often compromised, exposing us to unwanted risk. It is no different for health, safety and wellbeing than it is for feed, or cow health management.
On our farms we wanted to understand what our largest risk areas were in relation to all the work we needed to get done and the people we had employed to carry out the work.
It was important for us not to look at safety in isolation, and we made a conscious decision to incorporate health and wellbeing into the equation to get a more robust picture of the risks to our business. We also recognised that while a lack of knowledge, skills and experience can be a risk, an abundance of these resources may create complacency or risky behaviour – perhaps because of heightened confidence or ability, or perhaps an inability to navigate a situation because of some underlying fatigue.
We recognised if we were to make a significant and lasting improvement to health, safety, and wellbeing on our farms, we needed to acknowledge we were not going to reach perfection overnight. We had to spend time understanding the tasks we did on farm and their associated risks, as well as creating a culture which made people accountable for working in an agreed way without adding unwanted complexity or frustration.
It was a journey not a destination, and we have learnt many things along the way which have made a positive difference to our workplace.
It is impossible to address health, safety and wellbeing risks on farm without assessing the areas of work. We involved all the people who carry out that work and this enabled us to determine our top 10 risks, and the necessary actions to either isolate or eliminate these risks based on the likelihood and consequence of harm resulting from that risk, and possible solutions.
We spent time getting our heads around the difference between a hazard and a risk to ensure we were focusing on things which made a difference to keeping our employees safe, healthy and happy. For example; a cow could be defined as a hazard, but she becomes a risk if her space is being threatened and she decides to kick out. We needed to understand the situations where a risk was created through an identified hazard.
Any critical risk (or high risk) situations that were highly likely to occur and had severe consequences, including death, were given a greater priority in those early stages. During this process we also decided who was going to lead the different areas - the idea was to get the people closest to the work coming up with potential solutions and supporting the implementation of these with the rest of the team.
This formed the basis of our risk register, which can be added to at any time but is more formally reviewed once a year. Daily, weekly and monthly risk management is addressed through other means within our systems.
What we learned
Open the expanding items below for explanations, videos and downloadable documents that can be used wherever relevant to your farm.
Quick wins and top tips
We identified that machinery and vehicles not being in top working order was a significant contributor to near misses on the farm. Although routine maintenance is carried out on all items, there is still the risk that something falters between these scheduled times and is picked up during our daily or weekly checks.
In the video below Dale Beker, Technical team leader explains how we use a tagging system to avoid operating gear that could put people at risk.
Visitors and contractors to the farm now have an obvious place to come and sign in – it’s a clear hub. Some of the significant hazards for the day are outlined on the hazard board adjacent to the farm map.
They can view the layout for the farm and be clear on the area they must operate in for their work. Risks of significance to them as well as applicable farm rules can be communicated and a copy of the map can be taken with them as a reference.
As our health and safety culture began to get some legs, a few obvious gaps started to appear. One was doing work on our support land which was owned by another party.
The property was a couple of hours drive away so it wasn’t practical to take everything we need with us each time. We were going to be operating machinery and vehicles which were owned by other people and we were going to be working in more isolation than we were used to on our milking platform.
In the video below Ben Fisher, Farm manager of Scott farm shows how we approached our challenge.
Studies show that farming has one of the highest incidence of melanoma, and that it is also a risk that can be easily addressed. DairyNZ adopted five simple ways to keep sun safe - detail is on the document below.
Big tasks with big payback
Our roster had been a 12 on 2 off cycle for some time. As a business we had started to look at where our accidents and near misses were coming from and it seemed there was a pattern forming around fatigue amongst our employees. This was insight was backed up by our managers.
We started to look carefully at timesheets and we noticed that many of our employees were doing over 50 hours a week, so the combination of long days and many days on without a break looked to be taking its toll.
We played around with different roster combinations but settled on implementing a trial period on a new roster cycle of [7:2] [5:2] [4:1], or as they refer to it the ‘7,5,4 roster’. This allowed for the team to work in pairs to cover the weekends, ensured from Monday-Thursday the whole team was on, and reduced the working week down to 45-47 hours per week.
Roster trial successes
- Our budget for relief and casual staff has not increased as less sick leave is being taken – anecdotally because people have been feeling healthier.
- We have been happy for staff to work together to swap the odd day off around to best fit with their lives.
- On the weekends there has been flexibility where possible around the time the cows are milked (e.g. starting milking an hour earlier) to allow people the ability to make family commitments.
- We have made available a daily paper-based timesheet (rather than relying on an electronic weekly one) to better capture accurate working hours. The template is attached.
- This is a trial, and therefore it has been about consultation and communication the whole time. Where we started might not be where we finish and we have been prepared to adapt things as we go.
- For the first time in many years our staff turnover is 0% which is a significant improvement for us.
Limited use of ATVs
Since the year 2000, 26 percent of all agricultural workplace fatalities have involved an ATV (Quad bike). It's a serious focus area for the industry as many of these fatalities are from similar roll over incidents.
Although a quad can technically go more places than a LUV (side by side) it caused us to question if you had to take a quad because of terrain, should you think again about whether you should be taking a vehicle there at all due to the increased risk?.
At DairyNZ, we have chosen to phase out the use of quads on our farms, as they create avoidable risk and so are not the right fit for our business. We have been replacing quads with side by sides and working with our staff to change our attitude around safe vehicle use.
Side by sides have their own set of operating guidelines to reduce the risk of an accident which includes the use of a helmet and a safety belt for protection from the roll cage should the vehicle end up in an accident. We had to educate the team of the risks to get them to buy into the added use of the safety belt.
Stock handling training
Accidents involving stock were a significant contributor towards accidents and ACC claims on our farms. This reflects industry trends and many of these types of accidents show through to ACC as hand or arm injuries which require time off work.
Because of the nature of the work we do, animals are handled frequently in a variety of different milking sheds, crushes, barns, yards and feeding stalls. So for us it was high risk due to the frequency of handling.
The farms are also a busy place and some staff or scientists whowouldn't normally be working on a farm-are required to assist with trial work which can include stock handling. Similar to the relief staff situation.
In the video below research technician Amelia Griffin explains how DairyNZ put a training and assessment programme in place for all employees handling stock. You are welcome to download and use the templates we developed.
Creating the culture
Routine maintenance of vehicles is a non-negotiable, however when it comes to more frequent checks we found that many staff were starting up a vehicle without any pre operation check.
Putting procedures in place to support all staff to carry out both daily and weekly checks of vehicles has helped us to adopt the culture of ‘take five’ which means we are happy to spend the time checking the soundness of the vehicle before we get stuck into a job.
Having the procedures in place and talking about the importance of double checking both vehicles and machinery before tasks are carried out, has been vital in creating the positive culture we now have. Find out more from Bruce Sugar, Lye Farm manager in the video below.
Culture is all about communication. You can have all the written policies and procedures possible, but if you don’t talk about things with your team you can’t make it second nature, and that’s what culture is all about.
Although many tasks on a farm repeat daily or weekly, each will be different depending on the weather, the animals or the seasonal priorities.
Effective health, safety and wellbeing management is not an added extra, it is woven through our normal day and the work that we need to get done. Things change rapidly on a farm and our farm managers choose to have team meetings to help keep everyone on the same page.
Each of the farms host slightly different meetings so check out the video below to hear from both Ben and Bruce on how they get the most out of their time with the team.