Thursday, 29 June 2017 10:55

Health, safety top priority for corporate farmer

Written by 
Angie Saywell. Angie Saywell.

Health and safety (H&S) of people is the top priority for a farming group that’s among the largest in New Zealand.

Theland Purata and Tahi Farm Groups collectively own 29 farms – 13 in the South Island (formerly Purata) and the balance in the North Island (formerly Crafar farms).

Fostering a culture of everyone looking out for each other recently helped the group gain secondary level ACC Workplace Safety Management Practice accreditation.

Theland Farm Group H&S manager, Angie Saywell, says the accreditation and the audit which preceded it “allowed the group to showcase a selection of initiatives... to keep our people safe”.

“You won’t find any box-ticking here, rather a genuine commitment to safety, led from the boardroom to the dairy shed and everywhere in between.

“Historically, agriculture hasn’t had a great track record in safety and we have worked hard to help lead the change in culture necessary to send every member of our team home safe, every day.”

Saywell early in 2016 joined Purata -- her dream job.

“I’ve worked as a H&S practitioner for nearly a decade after graduating bachelor of science and arts from Otago University. I started my career with ACC in assessment and case coordination roles, but wasn’t satisfied being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

“An opportunity to join ACC’s injury prevention team saw me do a post-graduate diploma in occupational H&S through Massey University and my passion in this field grew from there.

“Home for me is also a farm -- my husband Pete and I are in our second season of contract milking on his family farm near Geraldine -- and the hands-on experience helps me understand the environment that can compromise H&S.

“My initial role with Purata and then Theland cemented my passion for making a difference. Working with Theland senior leadership team we have achieved a level of engagement across the business that we are proud of. We apply a ‘one farm, one team’ approach that helps drive our culture and we share challenges, ideas and successes across all our farms to ensure we don’t reinvent the wheel at each worksite.”

Theland’s H&S programme is succeeding because it is owned and driven by the entire team; Saywell says people tune in once they relate workplace H&S to personal and family time.

“We all want to go home safe at the end of each day and the key lies in helping people recognise the impact an accident could have on the time they spend with their children, family, friends or interests.

“We consult clearly with our people and communicate the ‘why’ behind everything we introduce and roll out on farm. If our team understand why they do something a certain way or why they need to do it at all, it achieves much better buy-in.

“Engagement is achieved in daily meetings where H&S is always the first point of discussion. We also have an active H&S committee with representatives from each farm team.”

Recruiting the right people has also pushed the success of the H&S programme.

“We understand the qualities and skills that make great leaders, and support our people with their career progression goals.

“We work with our farm managers so they understand their H&S responsibilities and we keep them well informed, particularly on changes to H&S legislation.

“We don’t expect them to be H&S experts, but we do expect them to lead by example, so keeping them up-to-date helps them do that effectively.

“And we understand our cultural diversity and communicate appropriately with our people. English is a second language for many so we use visual controls to ensure everyone understands H&S.”

Theland farms display meaningful H&S information, e.g. farm hazard maps, emergency procedures and signage. In late 2015 a reporting system came online that can be accessed from dairy shed computers and mobile phones -- recording all accidents, incidents, near-misses and hazards. This allows analysis of data to identify trends and key hazards in incidents.

An orientation programme helps identify any new person’s training needs, and training sessions during the dairy season upskill them.

Despite the size and spread of Theland farming group, Saywell says the culture is family oriented.

“Go onto any one of our farms and you will experience the same culture.

“Everyone looks out for each other, and is quick to raise concerns if they see an unsafe act and this extends to contractors and visitors.”

One-size-fits-all is not how it’s done in safety.

“It’s a long, often bumpy journey that requires a commitment from the business and its leaders... driven by culture, not compliance. Our teams know we will listen, consult with them when introducing new policies or procedures, take their feedback on board and tweak our systems. We may not do things the way everyone else does but that’s ok; we are not afraid to think outside the square.”

A recent review of Theland Farm Group H&S event data reveals that near-misses and non-injury events account for nearly 75% of all reported events. Each of those near-misses and non-injury events are investigated to help prevent a recurrence; teams are involved in investigations and learnings are shared across the business.


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