Brothers Matt and Joe McRae are in the process of ‘formalising’ the health and safety processes for their family farm, Eilean Donan in the Redan Valley – and they’re finding they’ve already been doing a lot of what is required.
“For instance, things like wearing helmets on the farm bikes, making sure vehicles and machinery are well maintained and not taking vehicles onto certain steep terrain has always been part of our approach,” says Matt, the 2019 Otago/Southland FMG Young Farmer of the Year.
“But now we’re getting those things formalised, in farm rules, training and maintenance records and marked on our hazard map. We are also about to take on a full-time member of staff. Employing someone makes things a little more complex, so having those processes in place will be very useful.”
Eilean Donan has been in the McRae family for 111 years. Today, it extends to 970 ha of interconnected blocks of flat to rolling land, with 6,500 ewes, 2,000 hoggets, 300 dairy grazer calves and 120 beef cross steers.
Matt and Joe found working from templates – such as those in WorkSafe’s Keep Safe, Keep Farming toolkit was the best way to kick-off establishing their health and safety plan.
“Once you have those tools, it’s pretty straightforward,” says Matt. “We’ve used FarmIQ for the hazard map and identified our risks, like steep slopes, bridges and offal pits.
“One of our risks, and probably the biggest change for us on-farm, is that public roads that run through the farm are getting much busier. We need to put out cones and signage to give drivers plenty of warning when we are shifting stock across the roads.”
Matt says one of the key things is to “never take anything for granted”.
“We’re currently drawing up the induction plan for our new staff member,” he says. “Even though he is experienced in farming, we will be familiarising him with the risks on our farm and making sure he is trained and competent with our vehicles and equipment and in the way we expect things to be done.
“That works both ways too – because he is currently employed on a block we have just leased. He knows that land much better than we do, so we’ll be working with him to help us to develop that part of the hazard map.
Matt and Joe take the same approach when contractors are coming on-farm.
“A lot of them have been doing work here for a long time and are very familiar with the farm but I make sure they know if anything has changed or there are any new risks,” says Matt.
“We don’t have mobile phone coverage here, so Joe and I use two-way radios to keep in touch. A lot of our contractors have them too. I touch base with the contractor beforehand and they know to get in touch when they arrive on farm and we’ll go through what they’re doing and anything they need to know, or I need to know, about that work.”