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Our Safer Farms ambassador Richard Loe caught up with Young Farmer of the Year James Robertson to chat about his experiences on his family farm and how an injury can have a big impact your business.

FMG Young Farmer of the Year 2019 winner James Robertson gained first-hand experience of the impact an injury can have on a farm business when his father suffered an accident.

“He was kicked by a cow and broke his thumb,” says James, who grew up on his family’s dairy farm near Mystery Creek.

“I think I’d been a bit oblivious to health and safety as a young person but I really saw the implications an injury has on the business. He wasn’t able to work in the cattle shed for a few weeks. Having a key person not able to do that put a lot of pressure on everyone else.”

James has a Bachelor of AgriCommerce from Massey University in Palmerston North. He was very active in the university’s Young Farmers organisation and says that helping organise health and safety for club events gave him a new perspective.

“It wasn’t just if we were going on farm for a practical farming day, but also for things like social events. It made me very aware of the importance of identifying the risks and planning how to mitigate them,” he says.

“That’s a huge thing. We were a big group, we did not want anyone to get hurt and there are implications for your organisation if someone does get hurt. There’s the human perspective and the business perspective of health and safety. That really raised my awareness, that it’s about a lot more than chainsaws and motorbikes.”

Going on to join Fonterra’s business graduate programme – which involves six month stints working across different parts of the business, has further reinforced that awareness.

“On my first day at Fonterra, we had a presentation on health and safety as part of our induction.  And they provided real life examples of what can happen.

“There are lots of different aspects to what we do - from our farmers, to tanker drivers to those turning our dairy into world class products.

 “Exposure to different parts of the business has really opened my eyes to how we need an embedded health and safety culture – whether you are at a desk, in a factory, on the farm or somewhere in between.”

Currently based in Auckland for work, James is now a member of Auckland City Young Farmers and still enjoys getting home to help his parents, who now farm some lease blocks near Hamilton.

“After Dad’s accident, we started looking at health and safety differently. We have a hazard register and we always talk with our contractors before they come on farm, even if they know the place well, to talk about any risks or obstructions. You need to let people know – because just because you are aware of a risk doesn’t mean everyone else is.

“Time had been a factor in the accident, so we also started to recognise the dangers of fatigue. Before, there was a sense that you hadn’t done enough work if you didn’t get home exhausted. But we started focusing instead on doing things right and doing things well, without putting ourselves at risk. I think a lot of farmers cover off processes and procedures and PPE but forget about managing fatigue.”

Vehicle safety is also a key focus for James.

“While I was a student, I spent two summers working for a contractor in the King Country and that really instilled in me the importance of choosing the right vehicle for the job and the terrain and pre-driving inspection – things like checking the tread on tyres. I’m really big on that.

“It’s pretty simple really. Think about the job you are going to do, think about the risks and how you will manage them, make sure you have the right gear and that it’s in good condition – and manage your fatigue. Good health and safety doesn’t take a lot of time but, in the long run, healthy and safe staff add value to your business.”