Shifting our thinking on safety

Factors in your workplace can impact on your mental health – such as poor workplace support and training, safety, poor workplace relationships, issues with communication and how change is managed. These are called work-related factors, which when not addressed can increase the risks of workplace stress or lead to poor workplace mental health. However, there are some simple ways to reduce these risks on your farm.

I have always loved farming since I was a little kid, but grew up in a country town. My friends all lived on farms, but I was a townie.

When I finished school I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do – so I applied to work on a large farm not far out of town. I liked the animal and machinery side of it all, but wasn’t so sure about the early mornings, muddy winter days outdoors and how to stay safe while getting the work done on time. There was so much happening around me all the time.  If you haven’t guessed yet – my job was on a dairy farm. There were 2000 cows and about 30 people worked there – quite a few were new at the game like me. It was a big set-up and quite unlike any of my friend’s family run dairy farms.

There was a lot of training to start with. Induction courses for this, that and the other piece of machinery. Safety was a priority, which was reassuring, but there was a lot to get your head around. You had to do everything in the right order and fill out lots of checklists. No shortcuts allowed. I just wanted to get out there in the paddocks on the quadbike and round up the cows and bring them in for milking. My friends and I rode quads and motorbikes on their properties all the time, so this, I felt, I could do well.

The first thing I noticed were all the rules about quadbike safety. Helmets, operator protection devices, special tyres, speed limiters, GPS tracking, “no go” zones, pre-start checks etc. The farm manager said they’d had incidents with quadbikes and they were keen to avoid any more accidents on the farm. So even when they did send me out, there was another guy with me to make sure I didn’t muck up, get lost or stress the cows out too much. It wasn’t as much fun as I thought – no hooning around after all.

And always being reminded why the rules were necessary, and cautioned if I cut corners. It was all monitored apparently. Maybe I wasn’t going to have as much fun as I’d hoped in this job, but I liked the team and I liked the animals. And I have to admit, their strategies for on-boarding new staff and managing their workload were strong; I never felt like I was out of my depth, or inundated with lots of jobs too early. Having someone else out there with me did help me learn my job better.

I was out getting the cows in for milking one afternoon and there was a call for help on the radio to go and help another guy who had got into trouble out the back of the property near where I was. He was a pretty experienced farm hand, so I was surprised. I found him lying on the ground with a busted shoulder and the quad bike on its side nearby, engine still running. He was in a fair bit of pain. I couldn’t work it out at first. He never went fast and it wasn’t a steep paddock or a no-go zone. Seems like he had just dropped a wheel in a hole hidden by the grass, and the thing had flipped over.

I won’t bore you with the details, but Mick ended up having quite a few months off work to recover before coming back to work. The farm manager kept in touch and helped him through what was a pretty rough time. We all tried to stay in touch a bit and it was great when he did come back to work.

Mick’s accident, and what turns out was another one or two before it, led to lots of meetings to re-assess the use of the quad bikes on this farm. There was lots of consultation and surveys with all the staff but in the end the decision was made to get rid of all the quad bikes – because even if you do everything right, you can still have them roll over. We might not have all agreed, but the managers did a great job of making the change – and they took all of our feedback on board.

They brought in side by sides which have all sorts of extra safety features. You have to wear a seatbelt properly to even get it to move. Reckon it’ll keep me warmer and drier in those winter mornings though. While I didn’t like the changes that much, I did understand the reason for it – our safety as workers.

Listen to Campfire podcast episode 17 to hear how one company approached the same safety issues and successfully implemented major change to make their workplace safer.

Injuries on the farm can lead to stress, long-term health concerns and loss of income or even fatalities, so preventing them from happening is the best way of protecting your mental health. When it comes to running the family farm, investing in mental health initiatives is not only good for your family and workers, but it’s good for business too.

The NCFH is supporting farmers just like you to manage and respond to work-related risks that impact on workplace mental health – these are factors in your work that can affect an employee’s mental health and include poor environmental conditions, low job control, low role clarity and more.

Managing these factors, means decreasing the risk of work-related stress.
Find out more about being mentally safe on farm at

This blog is part of the Primary Producer Knowledge Network led by the National Centre for Farmer Health to promote mentally healthy workplaces. Campfire, part of The Primary Producer Knowledge Network, is funded by the Victorian State Governments WorkSafe WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.