Simon Craig leading the way in farm safety

By: Anthony Wingard

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Victorian sheep and grain farmer Simon Craig has always been one to put safety first.

Victorian sheep and grain farmer Simon Craig has always been one to put safety first.

That’s why recently, when Craig and another of his staff were faced with inspecting the inside of an old silo – regarded as among the most dangerous tasks on a farm – he was sure to take the necessary safety steps beforehand.

Since taking over the family farm in 2016, former agronomist Simon Craig has found new ways to look at farm safety and help prevent potential accidents

"The best you can do is to start identifying the risks and work towards minimising it and finding a solution," Craig told Farms & Farm Machinery.

Together, the pair talked it through before he entered, devising a strategy of action should the lack of oxygen and increased levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide cause him to pass out. They decided to cut a hole in the side of the silo that was big enough to fit Craig if he needed assistance and could be pulled out.

"It probably wouldn’t have been for the benefit of the silo, but we talked about that and said, well, it will be safer, and it will also let some more oxygen in," he says.

The inspection of the old silo was a straight-forward exercise, yet it is these instances – of which there are plenty – where Craig and his staff have implemented measures to ensure greater safety is achieved.

Having studied agricultural science at university, Craig worked as an agronomist at ag-research organisation Birchip Cropping Group until he took over the family’s Lemac farm, outside Kooloonong in Victoria’s north west, in 2016.

His time as an agronomist has seemingly provided him with a knowledgeable foundation on farm safety and has worked to update and improve safety practices at Lemac since.

"I probably see it [farm safety] as a pretty big risk to farming businesses as a whole," says Craig.

"I think we seem to have an attitude of common sense pays and that we rely on people’s awareness and common sense to do simple tasks,"

"There should be more awareness of it."

CULTURE SHOCK

Paramount to his work in farm safety – which has seen him become one of the faces of WorkSafe’s 2021 Farm Safety Week – is the changing of attitudes and culture around farm safety among his staff.

Regular Monday meetings are now a staple at Lemac, where Craig and his team – comprised of one other full-timer and a handful of backpackers and casual labour during harvests – discuss the past week where staff have the opportunity to state if anything needs fixing or addressing. A notice board has also been installed where safety tasks are noted down and subsequently crossed off upon completion.

Several interventions have already been implemented on the farm. They identified the seeder bars as a potential risk; slippery from a combination of fertiliser and dew when they were climbing up there at night. High-vis tape was installed on each of the frames – the solution cost just $100.

Roll bars have also been installed on their quad bikes – a practice which will be required on new vehicles in Australia by law from October this year.

"The main thing that I’ll happily hang my hat on and what we’ve been working towards in just changing the culture within the staff at the farm," says Craig.

"We try to bring them along with making them see what we’re trying to do is the best thing for them as well and it’s not just me filling out paperwork and ticking boxes.

"Most of the time, they just wanted to keep on working – just head down, bum up – and that really was the hard thing, to change their attitude to it. But I think once you explain to them what you are trying to do, you actually do get them on the right side.

"Once you’ve got the culture and the right attitude among the staff group, the paperwork and everything else will follow. There’s no point throwing paperwork at staff at the start because they will dislike it, but if you go with them and bring them along the journey, you’ll find everything else happens in the meantime."

Weekly meetings with staff and a safety notice board are two aspects that Craig has brought in to bolster safety

IN THE CLOUD

Day-to-day, Craig and the team document everything on Safe Ag Systems – a cloud-based safety management software accessible as an app on smart phones and online.

The software, designed by a former South Australian farmer, can be used for a myriad of agriculture safety functions. At Lemac, it is used to bring staff up to speed on the safety requirements and document any occupational health and safety risks or hazards that arise throughout the day.

Craig also uses the system to induct and introduce machinery on the farm where it stores information, including operation manuals and service history.

"If a staff member happens to use a particular [piece of] equipment and notices that it needs to be repaired, he can note it in the software and so someone can fit it before its next use," says Craig.

"The app helps us be more proactive but, as a farm, I think the next steps are at a more senior level with more documentation, more protocols put in place.

"I believe we are a safe enough farm but... as a farmer, I don’t want to proclaim that I have the safest farm in Australia."

However, as Craig reiterates, documenting and registering equipment via the Safe Ag Systems software may not meet state and territory occupational health and safety guidelines, with the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) and other state entities often requiring more documentation and records.

It’s a combination then, of both monitoring and recording information via the software as well as logged information elsewhere. To do so, Craig has engaged with a consultant from the VFF in order to be compliant with rules.

"VFF have a team dedicated towards helping its members, which also includes a free consultation and inspection of the farm, and there was no animosity or hardness coming," Craig says of his dealings with the VFF.

"It was very open-minded – ‘are you aware of your expectations here and there’ – and they pointed out a few things which they saw as a possible risk and gave me an idea of some more."

Victorian sheep and grain farmer Simon Craig has been working to improve health and safety on his farm

FARMER ADVICE

Moving forward, Craig and the team at Lemac Farm have already identified other areas where they hope to improve their safety practices.

Namely, Craig cites the risks associated with working at height and working with fatigue as areas of improvement.

He also wants to streamline the notice board and weekly meeting process – such as recording what is being said in the latter; making it easier to document and achieve a solution.

Despite the size of Lemac, which is well above the national average farm size (4,331 hectares), Craig says other farmers around the country can easily implement similar safety measures in their own smaller operations.

"Even just doing a self-check on your own farm and identifying yourself ‘what would a five-year-old child do, and where might put their hand?’ If you think like that, you will identify the risks which would be there and that would be where I would start and then identify a priority list," he says.

"Obviously, we deal with old augers and old silos, so to change those would be half a million dollars. "So, what are some things you can do in the meantime? Identify the cheaper way to do things safer.

"Certainly check your state and territory laws and regulations in regard to what you as a business have to keep in terms of documentation. Even just a simple log of instances on the farm where someone can report and action incidents.

"I’m not saying this will prevent an accident from ever happening on a farm, but it will possibly reduce the likelihood of it happening and also show a willingness of a business to be positive about driving a safe workplace."

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