Mark Chamberlain trained as a mechanic before entering the dairy industry, so has seen different perceptions of health and safety and stress.

“Just a Sharemilker”. This backhanded compliment was bestowed upon me by one of the crew we camp with each year. It has carried on as a running joke, with me being apparently less than a farm owner in status but greater than a farm worker.

It may surprise you to know that I have not always been “just a sharemilker”. After finishing high school, although I had always wanted to be a shearer, I did an apprenticeship as a mechanic instead.

I slaved away in that trade for 12 years before entering the dairy industry 16 years ago. And when I compare the two, I believe I can offer a little morsel of wisdom to the agricultural industry as a whole.

The trade offered more professionalism, more compliance with labour laws, more self awareness of health and safety and less stress. Putting aside the first two points (a can of worms for another day) it is the last two that have come into focus for me over the last two months or so.

You can have all the health and safety plans you like but they don’t amount to a knob of goat manure if they are not followed. So why aren’t they followed? For me it is simple. Stress.

We put unrealistic deadlines on ourselves to finish jobs, not helped of course by the weather, seasonal demands and lack of sleep. Mix these aspects together and you have a recipe for potential disaster… eventually.

As a mechanic there was always pressure but repairing large agricultural equipment requires a step-by-step methodical approach. You can’t afford mistakes as it costs you, your employer and the client.

However, because of the methodical approach required, you just deal with the task at hand, unlike farming where you are already stressing about the jobs that are two or three ahead on the list and, in doing so, you drop the ball on the task in front of you. Add to this the luxury of closing the workshop doors, driving home for a change of scene and the ability to switch off from the job.

In 12 years, I was neither involved in nor witnessed a serious accident. Not even close. I should be able to say the same for the agricultural industry but, sadly, I cannot.

Recently on the farm, one of our staff members turned up to the paddock as I was just starting the mower up. He then walked directly behind the mower as I drove away.

His laissez faire approach to my request that he remove himself from the area resulted in a short, sharp verbal reminder as to how his actions and lack of thought could have ruined both his Christmas, and mine.

Christmas is, for some reason, when we – including myself, stack more jobs upon ourselves when in reality we should be doing the opposite – winding down. I have a rule in my business and it is quite simple. “In 100 years, nobody will care.”

For example, in 100 years, will they care if I was a few days late getting the crop in? December 25 is a constant. I for one need to do a better job of managing workload around this time and fit the business around the family instead of the opposite.

Quite often in life, what we can perceive as a huge and stressful drama, can look quite different and much less significant after a good night’s sleep. Google the word stress and it comes back with one common theme – lack of good sleep. And herein lies our problem – unreal work expectations and deadlines, adverse weather conditions, a lack of ‘good’ sleep and throw in for good measure the associated side dish of stress.

All these ingredients mixed together day-in, day-out and it beggars belief that we can ever make good, safe decisions. The dumb decisions we often make can hurt ourselves, our families and our community. It is called the ripple effect and it affects us all.

Ditch the stress, get some rest.

But, what would I know? I am, after all, just a sharemilker.