Cotton growers to contribute to fatigue-management project

Grain Central June 27, 2024

Picking underway at a at Cam Geddes farm near Emerald. Source: Cotton Australia, Renee Anderson

A PROJECT led by the Rural Safety & Health Alliance and supported by bodies including the Cotton Research and Development Corporation aims to help the agricultural sector better understand, measure, and manage on-farm fatigue.

It has been designed to merge industry insights with cutting-edge research to deliver comprehensive, user-friendly guidance tailored to the unique demands of farming.

The team assigned to deliver the Farming and Fatigue: Growing Sensible Solutions project is a collaboration between the Appleton Institute and the Ag Education and Extension team at CQUniversity Australia and AgHealth Australia at The University of Sydney.

The team plans to explore the root causes and impacts of fatigue on farms, aiming to enhance safety, productivity and wellbeing across the agricultural sector.

Fatigue on-farm has been identified as an industry-wide priority for the RSHA, a partnership between rural RDCs investing to improve primary production’s health-and-safety record, and centred on innovative R&D.

Leading the project team is Appleton Institute director Sally Ferguson.

“The mining industry has been doing this for years – analysing specific element of their operators’ work that cause fatigue, understanding the specific consequences based on how their performance is impacted and managing that risk,” Professor Ferguson said.

“That’s what we want to learn for the farming sector.”

Prof Ferguson said managing fatigue in the agricultural industry was about tailoring solutions to individual situations.

“[The RSHA] wants producers to have a clear understanding of what causes fatigue and how their current working patterns can be tweaked a little bit to manage the risk better.

“It’s not about saying to farmers: ‘You have to change your entire schedule’; it’s about saying, ‘What do you need to be thinking about while you’re working to keep yourself safe, happy and productive?’”.

Prof Ferguson said managing fatigue was not about “downing tools after X number of hours”, because  fatigue was inevitably higher at some times of the year and at certain parts of the day for different individuals working in different industries.

Cotton Australia director and Walgett Cotton Growers Association member Bernie Bierhoff said fatigue presented in many different ways.

“As people get fatigued, their sense of what is safe and what is not is blurred,” Mr Bierhoff said.

“Employers limit work to a maximum number of days before a break; however, senior staff like owners, supervisors and managers often don’t take the time off they need, despite the best efforts of employers.

“Their day doesn’t end with physical labour; it continues with planning and office work at home before the next day even starts.”

Centred on the industry, the voice and views of farmers on the causes, consequences and controls for fatigue will be collected.

“We are running workshops through our networks in the agricultural sector including regional industry bodies like GippsDairy, and independent producer-run organisations Ag Innovation and Research Eyre Peninsula (AIR EP), just to name a few,” Prof Ferguson said.

Findings from these workshops will inform the design of a survey that will be distributed more broadly to ensure farm owners, managers, workers, contractors, and family members nationwide have the opportunity to contribute.

Researchers will then develop risk profiles unique to each sector, and create guides that will support individual farmers to develop their own evidence-based fatigue-management programs.

“We’re starting with four sectors – dairy, eggs, cotton and grains – and eventually we will build a model that would allow rollout to the wider agricultural industry.”

The project will deliver a practical, user-friendly guide as a final product that will assist agricultural enterprises of all sizes to understand, measure and manage fatigue on their farm.

“Ultimately the goal is to support health and safety, both short-term wellbeing as well as longer term, because we already know that work practices that challenge your body not only affect productivity, but also put pressure on physical and mental health.

“By extension we hope that this work will reduce on-farm injuries and even deaths.”

The fatigue-management guide will include tools to help farmers identify “hot spots” – where and why fatigue might be an issue in their operation, and how to deploy controls to reduce potential harm of fatigue without impacting production.

“I think it’s important for producers to know that this project is driven by their own industries.

“We have people in the research team who run farms and have lived experience doing these jobs – we’re excited to be contributing to the mission.”

Mr Bierhoff  said he looked forward to seeing the outcomes of the project, and hopes it will improve safety outcomes for all agricultural workers.

“’No job is worth getting killed over’ is something I hear constantly from my wife when she is telling me to slow down,” he said.

“She is definitely right, and that’s what makes this such a worthwhile project. At the end of the day, we want all of our employees to be safe at work and be able to go home to their families, and this project is working towards that goal.”

The Farming and Fatigue project is administered by AgriFutures Australia and funded by the RSHA, a partnership between: AgriFutures Australia; Australian Eggs; Australian Wool Innovation; Australian Pork; CRDC; Dairy Australia, and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

Source: CRDC


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