Tuesday, 02 April 2024 08:55

How to farm without harm

Written by  Jessica Marshall
Lindy Nelson. Lindy Nelson.

Safer Farms, the organisation dedicated to recognising the benefits of on-farm health and safety, is on a mission to reframe psychosocial harm.

The membership organisation, which launched its Farm Without Harm strategy in 2023, is chaired by farmer Lindy Nelson who says the organisation is trying to bring farmers into the conversation around safety.

The important thing to remember, Nelson says, is that psychosocial hazards and mental health are two different things.

She says psychosocial harm is “the stuff that we do where we work or our in work environment that contribute to poorer mental health and also, often, poorer physical health outcomes”.

These psychosocial hazards can include a high workload, unsocial working hours, remote and isolated work, and the under-utilisation of skills and experience, among other factors.

“Those are the sorts of things that we’re trying to get people to focus on,” Nelson told Dairy News.

She says that organisations like Farmstrong have done good work to talk about mental unwellness and mental illnesses.

“Our job now is to talk about the impact of work on those, understanding that farming is incredibly unique mostly in that there isn’t a big differentiation between work and home.

“So, whereas if I went to work in town and I caught a train and I came home, I’d be in a different district, I probably wouldn’t see my work colleagues, I probably wouldn’t be going round to my boss’s house for dinner, I’d be separate from where the harm is,” Nelson explains.

She says that onfarm, the environment is blurred in that there is not much in the way to separate farmers and farm workers living on farm from their work.

“If I’m a dairy worker and my house is actually next to the shed, how do I even make that break?”

Nelson says this blurring between work and home is one of the things that needs to be understood in the discussion surrounding psychosocial harm on-farm.

“There is very much a blurredness between work and home and who we work with,” she says.

Nelson says another factor that makes farming a unique industry in terms of workplace mental safety is that oftentimes family relationships can come into play.

“If a father and son are working together, if a husband and wife are working together, and the culture at work isn’t right, then it spills over into the family environment.”

Nelson says there isn’t a one-size-fits-all, prescriptive method that works to manage psychosocial harm on-farm.

She says that while there are “absolute practical things” that can be done like ensuring workers are getting good rest, fostering good working relationships are “huge”.

“A farm culture where relationships thrive is critical because if you don’t have that… if you don’t have all those trusted systems, you won’t fix psychosocial harm, you won’t get workers who are able to say to you ‘you’ve overworked me, there’s too much stress here’, you can’t have those conversations.”

Nelson says that on her farm, what has worked is a weekly meal with her farm workers.

“So, that’s really about checking in, it’s building a foundation so that then I notice where they are in their mood, but it’s also a safe space so you can have those harder conversations around safety.”

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