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Fit farmers fatten back pockets 15 Apr 2016

Technology’s done away with much of the hard physical labour traditionally associated with farming, so staying fit can be as much of a struggle for many agricultural employees as it is for office workers tied to a chair all day.

For Ben Wundersitz, keeping himself and his staff healthy is paying off – not just reducing their risk of health problems but helping them cope better during peak periods and minimising incidents caused by fatigue.

“We haven’t had any WorkCover claims since will implemented our healthy workplace program, which includes gym memberships and healthy food at smoko, and discourages drinking during harvest and other busy times,” Mr Wundersitz said.

“We’re also a lot more productive now we’re fitter, because we can stay mentally alert for longer, make better decisions, be more aware of who’s around us when we’re working with machinery, and get a lot more done.

“I think it also helps to retain staff, because we have a supportive, health and safety-conscious culture.”

Mr Wundersitz and his wife Belinda run Anna Binna, a fifth generation family farming operation on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. They manage over 6000 hectares of owned and leased country, cropping wheat, barley, lentils and canola.

As well as what he’s doing on-farm, Mr Wundersitz is involved in a group called “Fat Farmers”, which is starting to spread to other regions in South Australia. The Yorke Peninsula group meets at the gym a couple of times a week, and then enters the City to Bay event in Adelaide each year.

“Health and safety is a priority from the get-go at Anna Binna – it has to be front of mind for both our permanent employees and any contractors we bring in for planting, harvest, and the like.

“It’s a no-brainer to make sure everyone has access to cool water any time, and provide water rather than soft drink at smoko and main meals. There’s no smoking in company vehicles, and we’ve reduced the amount of alcohol served at staff social functions.”

Mr Wundersitz says it’s not just about the down-time, though – everyone needs to be conscious of health and safety on the job as well.

“Fatigue is a big one here. All it takes is one tired operator to misjudge a situation for something to go wrong.

“Communication is really important, particularly when staff are climbing in and around machinery, and we also encourage everyone to be aware of the signs of fatigue and speak up if they notice it in themselves or their colleagues.”

According to a recent report by the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP), Mapping work health and safety risks in the primary industries, injury claims and associated costs for agriculture came in at just under $300 million across the period 2008-09 to 2011-12.

Mr Wundersitz says using safe practices will always maximise the dollars in your back pocket, and offers some tips for his fellow farmers:

1. Be aware of the signs of fatigue, and stop immediately for a break if you’re feeling overtired while operating machinery

2. Be aware of your colleagues, especially casual or inexperienced workers who may need some advice or a heads up about potential risks

3. Communicate with your colleagues, especially if you’re doing something unplanned like getting under a machine or removing a guard to check something

4. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, especially in summer, as it helps your concentration

5. Sleep. Get into a good routine and avoid heavy meals, coffee and alcohol just before bed.

The goal of the PIHSP 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.

Watch the video about Fat Farmers here

For more information visit www.rirdc.gov.au/PIHSP