“For me, efficiency and health and safety go hand-in-hand,” says Alex Field, the FMG Young Farmer of the Year grand finalist for Taranaki Manawatū.
“Before I do a job, I plan how I’m going to do it efficiently, and to do a job efficiently, you need to do it safely. If you break an arm, you aren’t going to be there to do the job tomorrow, and that just isn’t efficient.”
Alex grew up in a farming family on a lifestyle block in Apiti below the Ruahine Ranges. His parents worked on a nearby dairy farm and his older brothers were shepherds. He would often spend his school holidays helping his brothers with their work.
“This was ten years ago and back then a lot of health and safety was pretty vague but one of my brothers worked on a Landcorp farm where health and safety was already becoming part and parcel with everyday farm work,” he says.
Alex spent two years at Telford Rural Polytech, gaining a Diploma in Rural Business. His studies included health and safety, which Alex says provided the ‘backbone’ of his knowledge.
“Then, from Telford, I went to work for Landcorp as a shepherd for five years, in Ohai in Southland and then at Te Anau.
“It was in these roles that I really started to see health and safety as a priority. At the end of the day, we all want everyone to go home safe and that’s the basis of life on the land.
“All the staff are given a good induction and basic training but then you will also go out with someone experienced and they ensure you know how to do things safely before you do them alone. That’s the best way to learn. We were working in big teams and everyone looked out for each other’s safety.”
Alex went on to work as a block manager in Waikato and then, last August, became Stock Manager at a 1,000Ha farm at Turakina, with 3,000 sheep and 300 beef cattle.
It can mean long hours working alone – he might be up mustering stock at first light and not finish until dark some days but he says he is very conscious about taking sufficient breaks and managing fatigue.
“One of the best pieces of work advice I’ve had was from a former colleague who used to say, ‘No-one works well if they are hungry’. It’s true. If you press on to 2pm or 3pm without stopping for a break, then your work rate drops and so does your decision-making ability. This can lead to mistakes or even injury.
“As well as planning ahead of a job, I think reflection is important too. If something doesn’t go well, or if someone has a near miss, it can help ensure that doesn’t happen again.
“I was kicked by a heifer in the yards recently. Luckily, she just skimmed me, but it could have been far worse”.
“I thought through it all afterwards. It was one of those jobs when someone needs to be in the pen with the stock but it was nearing the end of a long task, we were loading the last truck, it was coming up to lunchtime and maybe I wasn’t as alert as I could have been. If I’d taken a 15-minute break and had a cup of tea, then I would have been more efficient and, as result, more alert.
“You need to identify your risks and have policies and procedures in place to manage them but they are not going to be any use to you if you aren’t adept enough to apply them. Fatigue, thirst and hunger are ‘hidden risks’ and farmers need to manage them effectively too.”