Business growth and increased staff numbers over the past eight years has prompted Western Australian sheep producer Will Browne to instil a culture of safety into his operation through the adoption of a formalised work health and safety (WHS) plan.
Until quite recently Mr Browne’s operation Warradarge Hill was a one-man band, but after increasing the farm size to 10,000 hectares and his Merino flock to 10,000 ewes, he’s been forced to add three new permanent staff members.
“Previously being an operation with no employees, I was able to get by with a ‘common sense’ approach to health and safety, but now with the safety of a new team to consider, it’s time to really ramp it up,” Mr Browne said.
“There are quite a few people involved in the sheep side of the business with shearers, truck drivers and lamb marking contractors, so we’ve decided to adopt a formal but easy-to-follow plan that will help make my family, staff and contractors safer and more productive.
“The idea is to make health and safety a priority for our team, and get everyone in the habit of thinking about the safest and most efficient ways to tackle every task that they do.”
Through his role as chairman of the livestock committee for West Midlands Group – a local crop and pasture research group – Mr Browne recently had the opportunity to work on a new WHS online sheep manual with Associate Professor Tony Lower from the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety.
Mr Browne was asked to provide feedback on the manual after “ground-truthing” sections of the online resource on his own-farm. The process has led him to more critically evaluate on-farm health and safety.
“As a father of four school children I am conscious of the safety hazards on the farm, but by the same token I want my kids to learn about agriculture and enjoy growing up on the farm as I did,” he said.
“Now that we are improving the culture of safety on our farm, our policy states that no-one works in the stockyards alone, regardless of whether they’re adults or children.”
This new policy for stockyards came out of the first ever Warradarge Hill tailgate (informal safety) meeting that was held earlier in 2016.
“To ensure there are no dangerous incidents now and in the future, we all agreed that two people were required in the sheep (and cattle) yards at all times, whether they’re back-lining, weighing or even drafting sheep,” Mr Browne said.
The two-people policy will not only create a safer working environment, but two sets of eyes means staff are more likely to notice potential maintenance issues in the sheep yards which ultimately drives productivity, according to Mr Browne.
“Simple stuff like maintaining good latches in the yards not only makes it safer for the workers to open and close the gates, but it will potentially ensure the mob doesn’t get mixed up and cost us hours re-drafting,” he said.
“Time equals money in our game, particularly now we’re growing. For us, implementing a formal WHS plan comes at a very low cost and we believe it makes good business sense.”
The new online beef, sheep and wool production manuals, launched by the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP) this year, offer practical tools such as checklists, templates and guidelines to help producers plan and implement best practice on-farm health and safety initiatives.
The goal of the Partnership is to improve the health and safety of workers and their families in farming industries across Australia. It is funded by the Cotton, Grains and Rural Industries Research and Development Corporations, as well as the Australian Meat Processor Corporation and Meat & Livestock Australia.