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Simple changes at grass roots help boost farm safety

Simple changes made after free advice from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland inspectors have helped a major farming business better target worker safety.

The Howe Farming Group at Walkamin in FNQ called in WHSQ after an incident involving a piece of plant and equipment (bagging machine) rolling over into a drain. An investigation revealed foreign workers struggled to understand grasp procedures, policies and pre-start checks.

HFG farms bananas, avocados, sugarcane, peanuts, blueberries, cotton, and coffee, employing up to 500 workers, including full time, casuals, locals, backpackers and seasonal workers from Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. General Manager Kimberley Mastin said the company wasn’t aware of the issues at the time.

"We assumed that if they could work and physically perform the duties, then they understood the procedures. This was not the case," she said.

The solution

"It was suggested by WHS inspectors to look at translating our guidelines, induction paperwork and pre-start checks to our workforce's first languages.

"We considered a couple of companies and were quoted $80,000 - $140,000 for 40 documents to be translated into five languages. It was then decided we would use Google translate and get some of our crew to proofread to ensure the grammar was correct.

"The translated documents are now part of our induction and training process. Once a full understanding of the job is done through the guidelines, the normal training occurs.

"Show the team member what to do, assist them to the job and then watch them do it. Repeat if necessary."

HFG now also trains all operators of plant, equipment and vehicles on their roles and responsibilities so they fully understand how and why pre-start checks are done. Translated documents are added to employee packs and guidelines and a pictorial of a pre-start check was also prepared to ensure full comprehension of the machines and process.

Workers now have a better understanding of why procedures are implemented – for the safety of all employees. Workers are more familiar with company plant and equipment and safety strategies, with workplace testing showing a massive rise from 12% to 96% in workers scoring top marks for knowing correct procedures and operating instructions.

Howe Farming Group
Improved training and communication for workers paying big safety dividends for Howe Farming Group.