Written by Safer Farms’ General Manager Tony Watson.

As a sector, agriculture consistently has the highest number of workplace injuries and fatalities in New Zealand.

It’s the same things killing people on farm every year – quad bikes, tractors, utes and being caught in machinery.

What if the answer started with a simple decision? Could it be as simple as a change of mind-set?

No one sets out to injure themselves during a normal workday, but it’s clear that pretty much every injury and fatality on farm is preventable. Sure there are lightning strikes and other ‘acts of God’, but a lot can be learned by listening to those who have been through an ‘accident’ or worse, listening to a grieving family and workmates left behind.

It’s clear there are usually a string of decisions, individually of little consequence, but one day they just happen to add up to a disaster on the farm.

Reducing injuries and fatalities isn’t going to be as easy as fencing off waterways. So what can be done? Firstly, when we are working on farm, we need to acknowledge that the decisions we make are going to have an impact on the result. As farmers, we are busy people, facing a range of pressures and uncertainties – from production, product pricing and changing regulations, to seasonal pressures, which are all sometimes compounded by shortage of people to help. That’s not to mention the obvious impact that weather has on the whole farm system. The pressure to get the job done can be huge, throw in some fatigue or distraction and you’ve just plucked the pin out of the grenade.

The more farmers we discuss this with, the more we realise that asking ourselves a few simple questions can have a massive impact. This is not ‘telling farmers how to farm’, but hoping you understand that it’s simply a decision: am I going to think about my own safety and the safety of those working on farm, or not?

We all need to find ways to do the job safely and efficiently while building safety in – not treating safety as a separate thing to consider.

It’s about asking ourselves: What could go wrong? What am I doing about it? Is that going to be enough?

Andrew Morrison, Chair of Beef + Lamb New Zealand and a retiring director of ALHSAG, said some farmers have stepped up and made health and safety a priority on the farm, but the sector needs to lift its game further.

Former WorkSafe CEO, Nicole Rosie’s move to a CEO role outside agriculture leaves a second ALHSAG director’s vacancy.  Nicole’s view is that the heart of the problem lies with many people in the sector thinking; “yes, there’s a problem, everyone else can change – but I don’t really think I want to”.

If this is the case, we really do have some work to do and it’s a leadership question we each need to answer. What is it in our individual and collective mind-set that is stopping us from seeing this as a problem?

If we think it’s not a problem – that’s the first thing we need to change!

When we think there is a problem and we don’t know the solution, then we can work collectively on that – we can learn from other farmers, from industry, from WorkSafe, other sectors and other countries.

We will make progress, just as the fresh water accord did.

People are still dying and being injured on farm, we need to stop burying our heads in the sand and take action.

We need to think about our own role in making the change and we need to think about the behaviour we want to see.

This problem is not going away – it’s not running downstream for someone else to deal with.

It won’t be a simple fix, it’s complex and it takes commitment but it starts with us.

More than anything, it’s going to take strong leadership and a commitment to want to change.

We don’t know all of the answers just yet, but if you all come with us, together we can fix it.