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Act now on WHS to protect your business 15 Dec 2014

In 20 years as an agricultural contractor, Bill Saunders has seen big changes in the way farm businesses treat workplace health and safety (WHS) and is urging all employers to protect their staff and businesses by getting a written safety plan in place.

“In my experience, there are still some farmers who genuinely don’t realise that they have a legal obligation to provide a safe work place, but workplace safety can be a very daunting topic to tackle,” Mr Saunders said.

While he recognises it’s not from a lack of caring, Mr Saunders says a small investment in preparing and implementing a thorough WHS plan in any farm business can pay off in a big way in meeting legal obligations and  increasing productivity.

“Support and resources are out there to help you understand your obligations and prepare your own plan, but you need to be proactive.

“This applies equally to contractors and farm businesses. As a business owner and employer I need to be responsible for my staff and equally if a farmer employs a contractor they are now seen as ‘workers’ in the same way as an employee. Farmers and contractors have to work together to make sure safety is maintained.”

Mr Saunders is the owner of Saunders Ag Contracting, based at Irrewillipe East in Victoria, and employs three full-time staff, increasing to five during harvest time. He’s also President of the Australian Agricultural Contractors Association.

As a result of firsthand experience with a serious workplace incident, Mr Saunders now offers advice to farmers and employers.

“Get on the internet and understand what the law is in your state and what your obligations are in terms of a safe work place.

“Secondly, if you find it difficult to prepare a plan yourself, I suggest using a professional advisor or independent set of eyes to look over your business and help you get the plan in place. Particularly if you run a business where there are a lot of risks and hazards.

“Thirdly, keep records of all your WHS actions.

“You need to be able to demonstrate you have made every effort to create a safe workplace and adequately prepare staff to do their jobs safely, and the best way to do this is to put together a formal WHS plan.” 

There’s now additional help available for farmers and contractors who want to know about WHS laws and put together a plan for their businesses.

Work Health and Safety Legislative Responsibilities has been prepared by the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP) and provides a step by step guide to drafting a WHS plan. It has extensive links and sources specific to each state and all aspects of the workplace, such as confined spaces, noise or plant and equipment. Copies are available at www.rirdc.gov.au/PIHSP.

In recent years the Federal Government and most states and territories have harmonised WHS requirements with the aim of reducing the complexity and variations that previously existed. The new report is a summary of the latest requirements.
Mr Saunders says he now has a full WHS plan in place. 

“New staff are inducted with simple steps such as explaining what is expected of them, making sure they are competent using equipment, and that they understand safety in the workshop and what to do in an emergency,” he said.

“Even though I’ve had the same staff for more than five years, we still often hold very short ‘tool box’ meetings to put a safety plan in place for a particular job or just to remind ourselves about a hazard.

“For example, we recently had to move some large equipment across a busy road, so a quick ‘tool box’ meeting before the job meant that everyone knew what they had to do to get the job done safely.

“In the past two decades I have only once had a briefing on health and safety from a farmer when turning up for a job but I expect this is a trend that will start to change.

“It’s actually not as hard or as time consuming as many people think, and anything that helps ensure you and your staff get home safely to their families at the end of the day is worthwhile doing,” Mr Saunders said.

The Australian Agricultural Contractors Association can also help with guidelines and advice on work place health and safety at www.agcontracting.org.au.