Health and safety made easier with onfarm apps

Smart phone apps are now a useful, or even essential, tool with onfarm health and safety, Claire Ashton writes.

The phrase health and safety covers more than you would think. From worker safety on a milking platform through to the correct storage of agrichemicals, once you scratch the surface, you could end up in a deep dive into the depths of the regulatory field.

Some new regulations that farmers may be unaware of have been brought in, particularly around the use of agrichemicals.

A great deal of research has been undertaken in agribusiness and by agrotechnology companies to develop health and safety apps. In the early stages of development of apps, they allowed farmers to induct workers and contractors efficiently onfarm and keep track of their movements. Any visitor or contractor to a farm may be working in the vicinity of working machinery, animals, hazards, or any number of different operations onfarm.

Apps have progressed through industry research, use onfarm, and user feedback, and with the use of smart phones and swift uptake of technology, they have advanced to incorporate more than the basics of health and safety, to include risk assessment, risk management, and reporting.

Getting a health and safety app helped Nicole and Kevin Oppert to improve their farm’s health and safety plan to a point where it saw them take out the Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award at the regional Dairy Industry Awards for the Central Plateau.

“After going through the first round we felt it wasn’t strong enough, so we implemented ThinkSafe,” Nicole says.

The contract milking couple, who supply Miraka, upgraded their health and safety plan after the first round of judging in the Dairy Industry Awards. With several merit awards, they won the region’s Share Farmer of the Year category for the Central Plateau.

Health and safety is a vital part of the overall farm management plan.

“The health and safety side of things since we have been contract milking has come in real hard and fast. The rules and regulations are coming in and we have to be able to show inspectors the information,” Kevin says.

“When we took a look back after the first round of judging, despite getting good feedback around our health and safety policies, we really wanted to show that we were moving with the times – and the times are digital.

“In dairy farming we need to be more sustainable. I do like to write things down, but I like to make it easy for contractors coming onto our farm to access information. Going digital ticks a lot of boxes.”

Their last sign-in method was at the cowshed and there was a notice requesting a contractor or visitor sign in, however, if the cowshed isn’t readily apparent onfarm, Kevin says, how would people know where to go? The Opperts, spurred on by new technology, are underway with getting a QR code to sign in.

Nicole says having the ThinkSafe app on all their staff phones allows them to document all the policies and day-to-day farm events a lot easier.

“Everyone spends more time on their phones now, so you have to make the information accessible in a way people are accustomed to – and these days that is using a cell phone. I think if you don’t move with the times, you can fall behind quite quickly, new technologies have to be incorporated onfarm,” Kevin says.

Kevin says a big advantage of the app is that they know exactly who is onfarm at any given time, particularly as their farm has regular contractors visit, as they have Contact Energy sites onfarm where natural gases are monitored. (Contact Energy were the previous owners of the farm.) They know exactly who is onfarm, as after signing in the app alert pings on the phone.

“As a young farming couple, we can develop, learn and adapt in a way that drives our business forward. The app makes it easier to induct staff as you need a lot of information, about tractor driving, races, where your hot spots are. Everyone is going green now, so what it has done is utilise all our paperwork so you can send it through and scan it then all the documents are available.”

“You don’t have to be onfarm to be controlling the farm, even off-farm you know what is happening. Having a health and safety app gives the contractors a broad spectrum of what guidelines to adhere to.”

“It’s about simplifying it to be honest – I think everyone can complicate the hell out of things, and health and safety is one of them.”

They weighed up options before deciding which app to go with, and there were some farm specific apps with add-on’s and farm integration information, but that would mean all staff would have access to all the information, and the couple wanted to keep it simple without overloading staff.

“Instead of having a big health and safety manual we have a basic hard copy folder with the guidelines and then refer to the app.”

Thinksafe uses a tick box system for induction, but Kevin believes it could be improved as the app doesn’t allow for the inductee to say that they have learned what they have been taught in the induction and agree to it. Kevin suggests perhaps a photo of them doing it practically, and he does have other suggestions where the app has room for improvement too.

Health and safety apps are no substitute for good health and safety practices onfarm, rather they should complement what is already in place based on sound practice – and some good old common sense.

Researching health and safety

Golden Bay dairy farmer Deborah Rhodes regards health and safety as such a hot topic that she is undertaking research into the safety climate in dairy sheds as part of a Master’s Degree in Health Research with Victoria University.

Not a lot of scientific study has gone into what Deborah pinpoints as ‘safety science,’ and the level of harm has been stable without any notable reductions for some years in accident reporting.

As part of the research, Rhodes is sending out a survey, with support from DairyNZ and Federated Farmers, to dairy workers and employers. Certain times of year sees more accidents such as during calving, so much so that there is a ‘Reducing Sprains and Strains’ campaign. DairyNZ has partnered with ACC to improve farmers’ health and safety and its aim is to develop solutions that support a sector-wide reduction in sprains and strains by 2030.