Thursday, 02 June 2016 14:55

Safety culture on farm a key aim

Written by  Pam Tipa
Kevin Johnstone. Kevin Johnstone.

The new workplace health and safety legislation is trying to engender in farming a safety culture.

So says Kevin Johnstone, of safety and risk management company QSI International.

Johnstone spoke at a recent a Beef + Lamb NZ farm safety workshop at Helensville.

There are three components to this: a safety management plan, safe work procedures (written), and the necessary 'tools' and forms, he says.

"I can hear you saying straight away 'yeah I know all this but the fact is you can't legislate for everything, you can't write everything down, you can't mitigate everything'. Of course you can't... and you will see the new act takes account of this," he says.

Risk and hazards are two different things. Risk is the possibility of harm – what might happen to a person, such as death or injury, should they be exposed to a hazard. For example, a hazard is electricity, the risk is electric shock.

"The level of risk is determined by you assessing the likelihood of something happening.

"The act also talks about what is reasonably practicable: is it reasonably practicable for you to be expected to do something about a risk?"

Safety management systems

The purpose of these is to ensure everyone on the farm is thinking about safety. Key components are:

People know what they're meant to be doing

They are trained for the job

The hazards are identified and risks are managed.

Equipment is safe

Visitors and contractors are made aware of relevant hazards and risks

Contractors have their own safety management systems in mind for their work

People's wellbeing and the environment is monitored.

It includes the safety management plan, safe work procedures and tools and forms. He says many farmers may think they are already doing those things and that may be true.

The legislation has moved away from being prescriptive, e.g. do this, don't do that, to more flexible and intelligent risk management by the operator.

"That is not putting all the weight on your shoulders or finger pointing; it is trying to get you to grow the safety culture.

"It is a good idea to sit down and review this annually, and have on record your annual review of objectives, incidents, changes in farming operation, changes in legislation or recognised good practice."

Risk management

The risk register should reflect the main risks on your farm.

"It is understood that a farm has many hazards and you are not required to document them all -- only the essentials."

A risk register should not exceed two pages.

"The business of managing risks has three steps: identifying hazards, testing the risks, and putting in place [ways] to minimise and bring those risks under control. Your workers are integral to this process."

You should assess the likelihood of harm and any likely consequences.

For instance, riding a quad or a 4x4 on a steep paddock may be medium risk in summer but high risk in winter, so you probably wouldn't do it then.

A bridge which needs repair will be low risk if it spans only a 30cm drop but high risk and needing immediate attention over a high drop.

Control measures include looking at whether there is another way to do a high-risk job, moving it away from people at risk, safe work procedures and further training, warnings or protective equipment.

Dynamic risks

Some risks crop up unexpectedly and no procedure or control exists for these, says Johnstone.

The term 'common sense' is frequently used but Johnstone warns that one person's definition of common sense is not necessarily another's. He gave an example of working overseas where he was encouraging workers to use their initiative more – until they 'fixed' their water supply by filling with fresh water a truck used for emptying the latrines; then they hitched it to the drinking water system. He learnt from that incident that some people need closer supervision.

Farm inspections

Johnstone says farmers do farm inspections in their heads whenever they move about their farms or businesses.

"It doesn't need to be a great formalised checklist. If somebody asks 'when did you last do a farm inspection?', the honest answer would probably be 'about an hour ago when I drove around in the ute', because you are assessing the safety and operation of your farm and your undertaking."

Such an inspection should include looking for any new hazards, hazard controls that aren't working and confirming that workers are following farm safety rules.

Safe work procedures

These are the primary means of managing key risks in key activities. A farm should have bullet point guides to how you want these operations done -- a good guide to new workers and others on how your farm operates.

Roles and responsibilities

A 'person conducting business or undertaking' (PCBU) is likely the farm company or owner. Under the terms of the act he is expected to provide or maintain a safe work environment.

Directors and trustees also have a responsibility. "The days of being a remote owner – sometimes even in a neighbouring country – don't get you off the hook in respect of your responsibility. You have a responsibility to make sure the PCBU is meeting their obligations.

Employee management

Employees should have a job description, should have supervision until competent to do a task safely, should have training and there should be two-way communication.

Johnstone says a job description of only a few short sharp sentences describing the role is sufficient.

You have to ensure workers are competent for a job. For instance, if you are fencing in a remote area you might send 'Fred' who has been doing it for 40 years and you know he is fine. If you have a new 17-year-old you need to know he has had training and practice; you would probably send someone with him and you would check on him.

Emergency management

What does the act expect of you? You should have first aid equipment and it should be appropriate to the risk. A first aid kit with one Band Aid and a kid's aspirin is "not much use to man or beast". In an environment with risk of serious injury you need an adequate first aid kit.


Vehicles, machinery and equipment must be maintained in safe working order. "The act is quite clear about this; you cannot operate dodgy gear."

Notifiable event reporting

A fatality, notifiable injury or illness or notifiable incident must be reported to WorkSafe NZ by the fastest means. The site should be preserved for a major incident only. Notifiable injuries and illnesses are those requiring immediate hospital treatment, exposure to a substance which requires medical treatment within 48 hours, and specific notifiable illnesses.

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