Wednesday, 07 September 2022 08:55

Farmers working for farmers

Written by  Jessica Marshall
Lindy Nelson, Safer Farms chair. Lindy Nelson, Safer Farms chair.

The chair of Safer Farms, a free health and safety resource for farmers, says the sector’s new ‘farm without harm strategy’ is designed to prevent decades of preventable harm.

Lindy Nelson has been chair of the organisation since 2020 and says the sector-wide strategy is the first of its kind.

Nelson told Dairy News the big issues in on-farm health and safety haven’t changed.

The strategy identifies five system enablers, looking at how changes can be created and four high harm impact areas. Those impact areas are: psychological risks resulting in diminished wellbeing; vehicle-related harm; muscular stress and injury caused by livestock handling; and hidden harms caused by exposure to agricultural chemicals and airborne risks.

The psychological harm is top of mind for many farmers, Nelson says, arising consistently during consultation on the strategy.

“That’s not a surprise to anybody and so that has huge detrimental effects in terms of what actually happens.”

She says that while harm created by muscular stress doesn’t appear to cause many deaths, it is causing long-term disabilities and lost time off work.

“To me… if any person deserves a good retirement, it’s a farmer and we’ve got these farmers going into retirement carrying injuries they shouldn’t be carrying.”

Nelson says there is still a lot of work to be done around the hidden harms triggered by things like agrichemicals and airborne risks.

“As a farmer myself, I recognise we are good at noticing the conditions that affect our animals like getting pleurisy in the summer if they have to walk a long way on dusty lanes or spend extended time in yards, and yet we’re not recognising that these conditions also affect us, that that same dust and contaminants in our yards, is also doing us harm as well.

“One thing that the strategy and the action plan points our is ‘What are the most high harm areas that we need to focus on?’ firstly… and the second one is ‘How are we going to do this?’, understanding that it’s never been achieved before,” she says.

She says the sector strategy is about the sector lining up on the issue of health and safety.

“It’s us saying we can’t leave farmers to do it. Yes, there are legal responsibilities that farmers have to undertake in terms of health, safety and wellbeing – that’s WorkSafe’s responsibility. But we’re saying, as a sector, this is about farming leaders supporting farming people to protect each other from preventable harm.

“It’s our red line under the sector’s high harm rates. It’s us saying ‘Look, we don’t expect in going to work every day to produce food, which really nurtures people, we are not nurturing ourselves’.”

She says the strategy seeks to unite farming leaders to end preventable farm accidents and protect people.

“What Safer Farms will do is hold the vision for the sector, bring the pieces of the puzzle together through focus and collaboration.”

Nelson says the strategy and action plan goes beyond the hi-visibility vests and helmets typically associated with health and safety.

“It recognises that people are human and they’re going to fail, and ask the question how do we help them fail safely?”

The emphasis, she says, is on supporting farmers to get health, safety and wellbeing right, and recognising that it takes a combined sector- wide effort to achieve zero harm.

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