Onside Farm Safety

October 2017

An app that has been developed to streamline health and safety on farm

A large scale Waikato agricultural contractor is dealing with Health and Safety compliance through trialing a phone app developed in New Zealand. John Austin Limited has a client list of well over 800 and looks after about 4300 ha of maize and grass crops, as well as wheat, barley and oil seed rape. They have a permanent workforce of over 40 and in peak season that grows to around 70. They have a fleet of over 80 vehicles. 

Owner John Austin is an early adopter of precision farming technology. His philosophy is to do the best job possible for his farmer clients. He’s always looking for the best gear and is in constant search for technology that can help farmers “do it better”. The company has an ISO 9000 rating.

The Health and Safety at Work Act (2015) which was enforced in April 2016, has put a lot more emphasis on on-farm safety. WorkSafe says there are still many farmers out there who see prevention of harm as a 'compliance' issue and are doing the bare minimum they can to meet the requirements of the law. They say simply complying will not change health and safety outcomes on farm. From not wearing safety belts in tractors to using vehicles outside their operating parameters, people continue to run the risks because they've "never had a problem". Worksafe says tragically, statistics show many accidents happen during precisely those routine tasks people have done many times before.

WorkSafe have collaborated with Beef+Lamb NZ, DairyNZ, Horticulture NZ, NZ Wine and Federated Farmers on a initiative called Safer Farms, which provides a wide range of resources setting out what farmers need to know on a range of issues to do with farm health and safety.

The April 2016 changes created a lot of administrative challenges for businesses like John Austin Ltd. The new health and safety legislation meant every time a contractor visited a farm business, it was a requirement for the farmer (usually the farmer or landowner) to ensure (so far as is reasonably practicable) that the workplace is without health and safety risks to any person.

According the Safer Farms website, the following rules apply: 

- When a principal engages a contractor or subcontractor they must take all practicable steps to keep them and their employees safe on the job.

- If employers need their employees to work on private land (such as vets visiting farms, farm advisors, meter readers, local authority employees), the part of the farm where they will work is their workplace.

- The employer of a visiting employee must make sure the person in control of the workplace has ensured (so far as is reasonably practicable), that the workplace is without health and safety risks to any person.

- Under the Act, various people with safety responsibilities share duties. A principal has a duty to a contractor; the contractor has a duty to their employees and a self-employed contractor to themselves and others. As well, there are times when these duties overlap.

The implications for contractors like John Austin Ltd are big. With over 800 customers, that means a huge compliance and administrative burden. For each farm there is a health and safety document for the drivers and support staff to read and absorb in advance of each visit. John Austin Ltd lease block manager Lindy Bennett says those documents could be as many as 18 pages long and include every single imaginable risk associated with the property from grumpy cows to hazardous chemicals. Every time a driver changes farms they have another document to read and another farmer to contact.

Farmers are encouraged to specify their expected health and safety standards when contractors, subcontractors or their employees carry out work on their property. It is also suggested that these standards are put into contracts. Overlapping duties between farmers and contractors means that farmers need to discuss with contractors and subcontractors how they will manage health and safety when doing work on the farm. Sometimes a health and safety system is required in writing.

To speed up the process of being inducted for each “work site”, John Austin Ltd went looking for a software based system which would enable their workers to learn about the risks on each property and follow all the correct procedures when working there.

The company is trialling OnSide - a phone app and a website developed and funded by Juliet MacLean (Synlait Founder), Michael Falconer (investment banker) and Ryan Higgs (CEO and co-founder).

Farmers subscribe to OnSide and then develop their own health and safety plan by working through a pre-populated list of risks overlaid onto a satellite map of their property. Contractors and visitors are prompted to sign in on a smart phone when they cross a virtual ‘geo-fence’ onto the farm. They then are requested to review and acknowledge identified risks before signing in. Risks can be updated by the farmer in real time and visitors can sign out via the app when they leave the property. All information is stored in the cloud, avoiding the need for mountains of paperwork.

For John Austin the benefits are no sign-in sheets, hazard boards or contractor induction meetings. The contractor can sign in and review the risks on the phone as they cross the property boundary. Contractors can also “pre-induct” themselves into a business in advance and only see new risks as they arise. It also means they can sign out of the farm business on their way from the property.

The publicity for Onside also says they have done away with the need for a paper based document that could get wet or dirty or mislaid – almost everything the contractor needs is on the phone. Other advantages include being able to report accidents or near misses in real time, report or add new risks and gain access to a function that tells them who is on the property. Onside also provides the property’s key emergency contact information.