Making a real difference across the agriculture industry in New Zealand

21 May 2019
Tags >

A great story that has come through dedication and commitment to making a real difference across the agriculture industry in New Zealand. It is a privilege to partner with Pamu Farms of New Zealand on this challenging yet critical journey. Congratulations to all involved. more

Pamu : A different type of farming; One of the country’s biggest farmers, Pamu, revamped its on-farm health and safety practices after a series of deaths. It’s now leading the way in an industry that sorely needs improvement. Bernard Hickey reports in the first of a Newsroom series supported by Pamu.

“Pamu has removed all quad bikes from our dairy farms and has significantly reduced the number of quad bikes on our livestock farms. We have replaced the quad bikes with ‘side-by-side’ vehicles which in our opinion are a much safer option for our staff as they are fitted with seat belts and roll bars,” he said. “The remaining quad bikes on livestock farms are equipped with Lifeguards and Farm Angels. A Lifeguard is a flexible arc that mounts to the back of the quad bike and provides space in the event of a roll over. A Farm Angel is a satellite-enabled tracking and reporting system which notifies head office of an accident or risky activity.”

It rebuilt its system for training, monitoring and reporting on loss time injury rates from the ground up to understand how Pamu was performing against international benchmarks, given reporting in New Zealand farming is so poor. Pamu moved from paper reporting systems to an online checkbox system that allowed near-real time reporting from each staff member’s mobile phone.

The impact of Pamu’s safety changes were recognised in 2017, when Steve Carden won the ‘Health and Safety Leader of the Year’ at the NZ Workplace Health and Safety Awards.

Simone said Pamu engaged Wilson Consulting to conduct a review of its health and safety practices and of its training programmes. Wilson created a health and safety education and training programme for Pamu managers and workers.

“As a result of the work that we were doing. We realised we had a product that was missing in the agri-sector. We established the Pamu Academy, which is a joint venture between Wilson Consulting and Pamu to address our ongoing health and safety leadership requirements and to offer the training to the greater industry,” he said. The Academy now trains people from across the agriculture sector in safety leadership.

But it was more than just putting on high viz gear and getting rid of quad bikes.

Pamu also wanted to understand the reasons why accidents were happening, and to go wider than just work hours. That included looking at more ephemeral issues such as tiredness, poor nutrition and mental health.

“Part of this goes back to one of the simple philosophies, which is ‘fit for work’. Take a look at each individual. What is the state that they’re coming into work? Are they mentally fit? Are they physically fit? Are they emotionally fit? Are they getting the right nutrition?” said Simone.

“And part of the analysis that we looked at was the time of the day of incidents. So when did an employee start? What did they eat prior to coming on starting at 4.30 in the morning milking. What have they consumed during the day?” he said.

That led Pamu to start putting on meals and/or healthy snack options for staff in the peak of the dairy season. It’s all part of a culture change that has bedded-in and is now helping to make Pamu more attractive to staff in an industry beset by high turnover rates.

“It’s now okay to say I’m not okay. I don’t feel comfortable doing this or I haven’t had a break for six hours and I need to go eat something before I take on that task,” Simone explained.

“New people were coming in with a different mindset because the culture on-farm was actually shifting. So, when you start asking people what attracted you to Pamu, they were saying ‘I like the way you’re doing things. I like the training that’s being provided. I like the equipment and the safety approach that you’re taking to the business’.”

Looking after the health and safety of staff is also a factor in some of Pamu’s farms moving to once-a-day milking.

Joan Barendsen oversees the Burgess and Renown farms in the 18-dairy farm complex at Pamu’s Pastoral farms and supports the move to once-a-day milking on the 700ha Renown farm three years ago.

The farm has the toughest terrain at Pastoral and the longest distance for cows to travel to the shed, which made the move to once-a-day easier because the cows weren’t ‘wasting’ so much eating time on the trip to the shed. Cows also suffered less lameness and fewer udder infections.

But it also meant staff weren’t so stressed and tired having to milk twice a day and work for longer.

“The guys really enjoy it. If you float the idea of having shifts and milking twice a day, they’re definitely not pleased,” Barendsen said. Engagement has increased, turnover has fallen, and productivity has improved.

Pamu has also increased its focus on mental health. Simone said Pamu had just launched a mental health first aid training programme and created an independent hotline for people to call.

“The whole thing now is it’s okay not to be okay.”