Creating a Safety Culture on your Farm

23/09/2015 19:02



When Farm Business Manager Mark Johnson introduced new approaches to health and safety (H&S) on the four Landcorp farms he manages, he found the number of accidents on the farm reduced and productivity increased.

First step for Mark, who manages the Sweetwater cluster of dairy farms west of Kaitaia in Northland, was reviewing rosters – so  junior staff no longer work as many days without a break.

Next, a ‘safety amnesty’, which encouraged staff to openly discuss hazards and unsafe behaviour on the farms, proved crucial to triggering a major shift in attitudes towards H&S among Sweetwater staff.

Today a strong H&S culture is embedded throughout the 20-strong team – with calling out colleagues on unsafe behaviour seen as a sign of respect, rather than as ‘narking’.

Mark had already carried out the roster review when Landcorp launched its  Play it Safe and Stop for Safety initiatives,  to encourage staff across its farms to not just comply with H&S requirements – but to care about doing it.

Having won staff buy-in for the initiatives, the Sweetwater team has developed a range of practical new H&S policies, which Mark says were straightforward to implement.

Sweetwater recruits on attitude, provides thorough inductions and use a combination of Landcorp safety training modules and mentoring by experienced colleagues to ensure staff are fully up to speed with H&S expectations. 

The farm has formal policies in place, including regarding risk assessments before beginning a task, and people working alone. Near misses are routinely shared across all four farms.

Mass toolbox meetings for all staff are held quarterly, with everyone expected to bring their Landcorp hazard record books and near miss registers.

“That means nothing gets missed, and we have very open discussions about potential hazards and any safety concerns ,” said Mark. “We take a positive approach. If there is a health and safety issue I discuss it with the individuals concerned, but good health and safety practice is rewarded, often with promotion. 

 “People no longer see calling out their colleagues on unsafe behaviour as ‘narking’. Our approach is that we all live on the farms and recognise our collective responsibility for everyone going home safely at the end of the day.

 “That culture is now embedded at Sweetwater. No one walks past anything that is unsafe without reporting it – that’s just how we roll now.”   

Landcorp, New Zealand’s state-owned farming enterprise, has a longstanding commitment to health and safety across its 140 farms, which employ 700 full-time staff and hundreds of casual workers.

The organisation is strongly focused on reducing harm and the potential for harm. The Play it Safe campaign, supported by farmer and former All Black, Richard Loe, has seen a reduction in lost time frequency injury rate (LTFIR) across Landcorp farms and a 260 per cent increase in staff prepared to share near miss reporting.

The programme kicked off with national workshops where farmers had frank open conversations on H&S with Landcorp Chief Executive Steven Carden.

This was underpinned by a wide range of initiatives ranging from specific training to competency training for quad bike use and introducing special notebooks for recording hazards.

“The meetings were a catalyst in starting to change mind sets,” said Cushla Beale, Manager – Quality and Safety for Landcorp. “Farmers tell us that they stopped seeing safety as a compliance requirement and that it was no longer about ‘ticking boxes’.”

In June 2015, the organisation strengthened the campaign with Stop for Safety  –  with every  employee downing tools across the country to talk about safety on their farms.

Cushla Beale said further H&S initiatives are in the pipeline – and the Landcorp message is spreading throughout the farming community.

“Increasingly when we ask new members of our team what attracted them to the job, almost all say it was our reputation for safety – and we haven’t finished yet.  We see this as a four to five year programme – it’s a journey that everyone in Landcorp is on together.”

Related content :A guide to developing safety management systems