These are the words of one of our employees last year, who is also a pilot, talking about safety on farm. While I know safety should always be our first priority, linking it to cost certainly made me sit up a little straighter.
As farmers we are only too aware of how much things cost, fertiliser, chemicals, land (the price of it!) and machinery. We are working with figures so often we could probably compete in a maths quiz game show: IF we had the time.
We need to have this financial focus, it’s what keeps us profitable. The catch is that we can also calculate the cost of labour, even at 3am on the header, after downing our 3rd coke. We tell ourselves we are saving money doing it ourselves rather than employing that extra hand, that working hard is farming, we might even pride ourselves on how hard we work!
But what is all this hard work, this constant pushing of ourselves to work harder, longer, faster really costing us? It’s very likely what we are picking up in labour costs we are losing in sleep, diet, exercise, mood and mental health (there is a direct link between all five). When we sacrifice these things, we are also sacrificing our safety.
While the bottom line is important, employing that extra someone to help out so you can get a good night’s sleep might be the difference between you falling asleep at the wheel and running through a fence which will cost you more money and time (and potentially grain quality) if you have to pull up to get the front fixed (we all know someone who has done this)! David (my son) still curses me for damaging the spout of a hay shed a couple of years ago when I was working double time harvesting and stacking hay in the mornings… every time it rains it creates work!
The damage however could be much worse, it could be jumping over an auger PTO because you’re too tired or in too much of a hurry to walk around and getting your leg caught or not engaging the field bin arm before changing the tyre because you were too tired to remember or thought you already had because you only had 4 hours sleep last night. Again we have all heard stories of what happens when the lever fling backs—most have ended up in hospital, some worse. These sound like stupid mistakes to make and they are, but lack of sleep impairs our judgement and we can be more likely to rationalise these risks away.
As farmers we need to support each other in getting extra labour when required and put our health first. We are notorious for looking over our neighbour’s fence, therefore the more of us looking after our health, the more we are setting an example: that it’s ‘OK’ to put our health first, that in fact it’s imperative to a sustainable farm business.
This year I am making employing adequate labour a priority so that everyone employed on our farm is putting their health and therefore safety first. We hope that by ensuring we have adequate labour it will have the following positive effects:
- If we have more sleep we will have more energy to make ourselves a healthy lunch box EVERY day that will keep our energy levels balanced throughout the day, this has the flow on affect that we are less likely to reach for that coke or coffee during the day or night (which can affect heart rate, stress and our sleep as well as our waistline). In this edition of eNews we have some healthy lunch box ideas to motivate you.
- We can take a couple of minutes to put sunscreen on.
- Having an extra pair of hands will allow me to take some time out each day to stretch, exercise and get my heart rate up which can help everything from back pain to mood.
- Having appropriate labour may also help with my stress levels. As we are already riding the waves of the weather forecast and harvest hasn’t even begun yet, employing extra labour now and moving into harvest is helping to ease my stress levels (bolstered by a good night’s sleep and healthy diet). (Breathing techniques can also reduce stress in just a few minutes. More here).
Safety induction and training
In addition to the above measures on our farm we always make the time to induct new employees into the business which is particularly important during peak times such as harvest. We have sent a letter to all existing and new employees with our newly updated safety procedures and a date for our harvest safety induction day. With new and existing employees we believe it is extra important that we have this day to ensure everyone is on the same page. Ensuring every employee knows that safety comes first on our farm is important as well as ensuring they know how to safely operate machinery, how to mitigate risk and the importance we place on a balanced workload. We want our employees to feel confident in letting us know of a safety issue on our farm or if they feel they need to take some time to regroup. Not only does this make for a safer farm, it also means we are more likely to attract labour when needed which cycles back around to being able to get labour to support your health!
Join me in making your health and safety and that of your employees your number one priority and enjoy the positive ripple effects across your farm. Go one better and talk about how you are doing this with your friends and neighbours and on social media. Let’s get the message out there that healthy farmers are sustainable farmers.