Article Summary: Injuries to staff on farms are inevitable. Led by DairyNZ and funded by ACC, the Reducing Sprains and Strains project is underway to analyse the causes of sprains and strains on dairy farms. With strategies in place and a common sense approach to health and safety on the farm, you and your team will stay well and fit enough to keep your farm running smoothly. Consistency and efficiency are key to a farm’s success, and the good news is that many proactive changes to improve the safety of farm staff are easy to implement and relatively low cost.
Injuries to staff on farms in New Zealand or elsewhere are inevitable. Still, there are ways you can minimise the risks and severity of these so that you have happy, healthy employees and consistent productivity.
April and October tend to be the months where most injuries occur. For most farms, it’s calving season and assisting the birth of calves that put tired, overworked staff at risk. Some experts suggest that up to 40% of all farm injuries are sprains and strains, which happen most during this period.
The Reducing Sprains and Strains Project
In New Zealand, farmers have taken part in important research to determine risk factors, the quality of health and safety on dairy farms and what is being done to prevent accidents from occurring.
Led by DairyNZ and funded by ACC’s Workplace Injury Prevention program, a three-year project, the Reducing Sprains and Strains project, is underway to analyse the causes of sprains and strains on dairy farms. It forms part of a larger programme called Great Futures in Dairying, which works to attract, care for, train, and retain great people within the industry.
The nature of farm work is labour-intensive, with teams working outdoors, in milking sheds on animals and one-on-one with animals. Physical human-centred work gives rise to injuries like slipping in wet weather and straining muscles while assisting a cow in giving birth or lifting an animal, and these tend to increase in busy times.
Three hundred and seventy farmers are part of the research project to understand how they manage health and safety and the number of injuries they report. The milking shed, a particularly dangerous environment for farm teams due to slippery surfaces and numerous obstacles, is a particular area of focus of the study.
Strategies to improve health and safety on dairy farms
Participants are also working with DairyNZ and ACC to implement different strategies to prevent injury. Some of these are:
Using specialised vehicles to transport calves
Sharing the lifting of calves across the farm team
Swapping buckets for pipe feeding of calves
Ensuring the milking shed and all bails are well-lit overhead
Introducing trolley jacks to assist with transporting animals
Using sturdier footwear with a stronger grip, and
Being mindful of hoses and leads and tucking them under mats or out of foot reach.
Why are these strategies important?
Not all dairy farms operate with large teams. Many are run by one farmer and, often, their partner, with contractors used only in busy periods. This means that running an entire farm is usually down to only one or two people year-round. Having one or both out of action can be crippling to a farming business, let alone the individual themselves.
By having strategies in place and, at the very least, a common sense approach to health and safety on the farm, you and your team will stay well and fit enough to keep your farm running smoothly. Consistency and efficiency are key to a farm’s success, and health and safety play a huge part in this.
The good news is that many proactive changes to improve the safety of farm staff are easy to implement and relatively low cost. It does, however, mean reassessing ways of doing and thinking about daily tasks. Ask yourself questions such as:
“Are there any potential hazards in the way?”
“Does this have the potential to go wrong?”
“Can I do anything to make the environment I’m in safer?”
“Is there a safer, more efficient way of doing this?”
If the answer to any of these is “yes”, then it’s in the best interests of you and your staff to take action to avoid potential injury.
The ACC recommends that a good rule of thumb is to meet as a team, no matter its size, at the end of each season and evaluate the incidents and the risks experienced on your farm collaboratively. Working together to consider all opinions and agreeing on ideas to reduce these next season will set you in good stead and improve your company morale simultaneously.
Facts about dairy farm injuries and staff shortages
Many farm injuries are not only avoidable, but they are also decidedly costly to a farm business. Medical bills, insurance, lost revenue due to a lack of trained staff, and the cost of recruiting a replacement at short notice all add up. Being understaffed also puts the rest of your team at further risk of injury due to overcompensation through increased workload and resulting fatigue.
One in four dairy farmers struggle to find enough labour or access the required skills needed on their farm, so losing additional staff to unnecessary injuries is something you don’t want to deal with if you don't have to.
According to the Reducing Sprains and Strains project, an injured person requires 12 days on average off work and 27 days to recover fully from their injury. This is a substantial amount of time to be without a team member. By reducing even one serious injury, you’ll gain 27 days of having a (hopefully) full team able to work.
What’s next for the research study?
At present, the research study is undergoing its next phase. With the information they gathered from surveying the 370 participants, DairyNZ and ACC are now developing options farmers can adopt to reduce workplace injuries.
Based on farmer feedback, a new calf-carrying trailer is being developed to reduce back strain, among other prototypes being built and tested for farmers in NZ and beyond.
It’s important, and a long-term goal, for DairyNZ to attract, retain and grow the dairy workforce over the next ten years. And this focus on the well-being of all dairy farm workers will play a huge role in the success of Great Futures of Dairying and the future of all dairy workers further afield.
It’s also at the heart of Pasture.io—”Tackling on-farm issues from a farmer's perspective, and essentially doing everything to support farmers health and wellbeing. From this position, we feel humbled in reaching farmers worldwide and making some of their on-farm decisions easier.”
Check out more on our About Us page to see how are team are helping support farmers worldwide.
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 2023-01-31