Three steps to managing your farm’s health and safety

There are three key steps to managing the causes of injuries and ill-health in horticulture businesses – we recommend you get as many people’s experiences and ideas as possible.


Make a Decision...
  • Planning to manage risk is a conscious decision.
  • Being healthy and safe requires investing time and thought.
  • The person in charge has to model the right behaviours.
  • Everyone working in the business has to believe it’s the right thing to do.

Suggested Activities To Get You Started

Health and safety doesn’t just happen. It takes a conscious decision to make sure all the pieces are in place to prevent people from being hurt or becoming ill. Relying on everyone ‘just doing the right thing’ doesn’t actually reduce the number of illnesses or injuries.


Sit down as a team (include family) and answer these three questions and then pin them where everyone can see them:

  • “Why do we want a safe and healthy farm?”
  • “What will we do to be a safe and healthy farm?”
  • “How will we make sure everyone who comes to our farm is safe and healthy?”

Invest time and thought in planning to be healthy and safe, and it will pay dividends in productivity. People are a really important part of the farm and planning for them is just as important as any other planning. Planning is only one part of making a farm healthy and safe. More than anything, it involves leadership. at the core of this is a boss who wants everyone on farm to be healthy and safe, and leads the way with their own actions. It’s not just the boss who needs to lead. Each supervisor and every individual needs to be able to say “we can do this a healthier and safer way”.


Each person in the team should answer this question:

  • “What am I going to do to lead health and safety on this farm?”

There will always be people who say one thing and do another. Health and safety is an area where you have to judge people by their actions.


As a team, come up with a list of behaviours you want to see on farm. Make these the basis of your ‘farm rules’.

Do the planning

Create a healthy and safe workplace
  • Be prepared by planning.
  • This is not a complex task.
  • The important thing is to identify risks and work out how to manage them.
  • Your plan is only as good as the way it is implemented and how up-to-date it is.
  • People who work on the property need to be involved in the planning.
  • It’s no use doing the work then not telling people about it.

Prior planning prevents poor performance

Doing the planning has two purposes:

  • It means the thinking about risks and how they will be managed is already done and up-to-date before work starts.
  • It enables this thinking to be communicated to everyone who needs to know.

Health and safety planning consists of:

  • Systematically identifying things from work that can cause ill-health and injury to people, and determining how those things can be eliminated or minimised.
  • Making sure workers or other people working or living on the property are involved in identifying and managing risks.
  • Making sure workers and visitors to the workplace are well-informed about the risks they might face while on site and are prepared to manage those risks.
  • Consulting with workers and family if you are planning changes that could affect health and safety.

You don’t need to have large folders full of health and safety jargon. How you choose to record risks and risk management actions, and how you communicate with visitors, contractors, employees, directors or between farms, is up to you – so long as it is effective.

By identifying risks and planning for them with your workers and family, you’re less likely to miss any issues, or good solutions. There is a requirement that workers on farm should be actively engaged in decision making on health and safety matters.

The ‘workplace’ on a farm is buildings, and any areas immediately around those buildings that are necessary for operations, as well as any part of the property where work is being carried out. This doesn’t include the family house.

Risk management

We have divided this process into three parts. You might do them one after the other, or you can do all three parts together.

If you’re a bit stuck about where to start, the WorkSafe Good Practice Guide Managing health and safety: A guide for farmers lists common risks and hazards on farm. Do this with workers and family.

Identifying risks

First up, you need to work out what has the potential to hurt people on your property or make them unwell. You don’t need to spend time identifying and analysing every possible risk. You should focus on those that could result in injuries or ill-health.


Identify the risks to people on the property. There are a number of different ways of making sure you have covered most possibilities. For example:

  • List all the activities you do. For each activity think about what could cause you harm or ill-health as a result of doing that activity.
  • Some of these things will be seasonal.
  • To give you a start we have included a table that lists some common tasks and the most common health risks or injuries that can come from these. But you need to think beyond them.
  • Remember that this isn’t just about injury. Think broadly about what other harm can happen, such as diseases that can be caught from animals, or hearing damage from exposure to noise, or lung damage from fumes.
  • List all the equipment you use on farm. For each piece of equipment, think about what could happen when using the equipment that might cause you harm or illness. Again, think about accidents you have had. Our table in the inserts at the back covers some common machinery.
  • List the features on your property, like posts, irrigation systems, spray sheds, bridges, headlands, tracks and roadways. Is there anything that could happen because of those features that isn’t covered by the other thinking you have done? Our table shows some of these features.

Managing Risks

The greater the potential harm, the more you should do to manage the risk. So, the risks you need to pay special attention to are those that are likely to occur frequently and result in injuries or ill-health, or those that are not so frequent but could have a major effect (like death or serious injury).

If you have contractors who frequently work on your property, make sure you get their input on risks and other issues. They might have some good ideas from their work in other horticulture businesses.

Go through the risks and think about what you can do to prevent the chance of injury and ill-health. Here are some questions to work through:
  • Can we eliminate this risk? If it is reasonably practicable, you must do so. This is explained below.
  • If we can’t eliminate it, how can we effectively minimise risk to people?
    • Can we do things differently to make it healthier and safer?
    • How do we maintain the equipment we use so it is safe and healthy to use?
    • Can we alter the tools or equipment to make them safer or healthier to use?
    • Do we need better training?
    • Do I need to provide protective gear?

What does reasonably practicable mean?
Businesses must always consider first whether they can reasonably eliminate risks. If not, they must take reasonably practicable steps to minimise risks under health and safety laws. But what might this mean for your business?

Reasonably practicable means what is reasonably able to be done in the circumstances.
It DOES mean you need to:
  • determine what kind of risks are caused by your work
  • consider how likely those risks are to occur and what harm could result if they did
  • take appropriate action that is proportionate to the injury or ill-health that could occur
  • implement well-known and effective industry practices
  • involve your staff in identifying and controlling risks.

It DOESN’T mean you have to:

  • do everything humanly possible to prevent accidents
  • buy the most expensive equipment on the market
  • spend the bulk of your week on health and safety training, compliance and documentation.

This is about taking responsibility for what you can control.

Overall, it means that you MUST do what was at the time reasonably able to be done by taking into account the likelihood and severity of harm, what people should reasonably know about, and the availability, suitability, and cost of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk. If cost is to be considered, the test should be whether the cost is ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the risk.

Communication and keeping things up-to-date

You need to make sure that people on farm know about the risks that will affect them and how to manage those risks.

By thinking through the ways of managing the risks, you have done a big piece of work. To make sure all that effort isn’t wasted, it needs to be part of everyday activity on farm.

Risk management is only effective if it is up-to-date. The best way to make sure this happens is to talk about risks and make sure
new ones are noted. Sometimes there are sudden changes (new equipment, or tomos opening up) and there needs to be a system for these to be recorded and promptly managed.

Go through the risks and answer these two questions:
  • “Who else needs to know about this risk and how to control it?”
  • “What is the best way to tell them?”

Work out when it is best to update your risk analysis and who should do this. ask the following questions:
  • “When we notice a new risk, how do we make sure everyone who needs to know is aware?”
  • “When should we have a total review of our analysis so we are completely up-to-date? Who should be involved?

A written record can be a good way of making sure communication is the same for everyone.
What should you record about risks?
You must be able to show you are effective at managing your work risks. Don’t create loads of paperwork. Note the main points about the risks you identified and what you decided to do.

Making it work

Being healthy and safe at work
  • Is in minds and behaviour, not in documents.
  • Needs to be visible.
  • Needs to be a part of everyday activity, not an ‘add-on’.
  • Requires everyone to be involved.
  • Results in fewer injuries and less ill-health when people look out for each other.

It’s about looking after yourself and others

You have made the decision to be healthy and safe, and you’ve put the effort into thinking about your risks and how to manage them. Now you need to think about them every day. Health and safety doesn’t live in folders and pieces of paper. It happens in people’s minds and behaviour.

The best way to get people (including yourself) to treat health and safety as an everyday activity is to make sure it is part of everyday activity – not just an ‘add-on’. Here are two things that may help you achieve that:

  1. Have farm rules
  2. When directing tasks, try to consider the following:
    - What needs doing?
    - Who is doing it and who needs to know about it?
    - How are we going to do it?
    - What tools/vehicles etc are needed?
    - What are the possible risks?

The evidence is overwhelming – if you make time to discuss health and safety before doing a task, the chances of having an injury incident or experiencing ill-health go way down. It doesn’t need to be a formal meeting. Make sure everyone has the same plan of looking after themselves and each other.

Keep people involved

Involving people is a key part of making injury prevention part of your everyday routine. Talking about health and safety doesn’t need to be formal. It’s a chance for people to share their experience and information about what they know about the current state of the farm, or to bring up a maintenance issue that needs addressing. Make it easy for workers to raise health and safety issues, or to make suggestions. Set up a white board, for example, in a place where people regularly go.

It’s also an opportunity to bring up any near-misses, so that the team can learn from others’ experiences. You want to encourage an open environment where people can discuss things that have gone wrong and where people are not afraid to point out when something poses a risk.

Getting people started

You want everyone involved and thinking about health and safety, but how do you start? Here are some suggestions:

  • Make health and safety the first item at any meeting or get together – discuss any incidents, injuries or near misses, see if anyone has any suggestions about new or upcoming seasonal risks, or any new ways of doing things. If any actions come out of it, make sure you note them down in your notebook or diary, and make sure people who weren’t there get informed. Don’t be afraid to ask other workers to lead this part of the meeting.

  • It doesn’t need to be a formal part of a briefing, just: “Ok, so what do we have to look out for?” when planning each day’s work, or seasonal work ahead of time. It’s a chance for people to share their experience and information about what they know about the current state of the farm, or to bring up a maintenance issue that needs  addressing.



Allocating Tasks

One of the biggest dangers on farm is assuming that everyone is thinking the same way. ‘Brief back’ is a well-proven method of making sure everyone is on the right track. It is also a great training tool for younger or less experienced staff.

  • Outline the task.
  • Ask the person (people) to work out how they are going to do it.
  • Ask them to brief you on:
    • what the required outcome is
    • what factors they took into account
    • how they are going to do the task.
  • If you have problems with what they are proposing, think about what factor(s) they have missed. Don’t correct  them, instead ask whether they considered these factor(s), and if not, what difference that makes to their plan.
  • Once everyone is agreed on the task and the method, they can proceed.

Health and safety legislation requires employers to engage workers in the whole risk management process.

What does a health and safety management system look like?

A system is made up of a number of components which work together to have a desired result.

In this case, the desired result is everyone getting home from work healthy and uninjured.

The basic components that make up a health and safety system are:
  • identifying and analysing risk
  • putting in place ways of eliminating the risk, and where this isn’t possible, of reducing the risk
  • having everyone committed to being safe and healthy, and to keeping others safe and healthy
  • making sure everyone is competent at what they are doing, or supervised if they aren’t
  • being prepared for emergencies
  • learning from incidents
  • continually checking to make sure this is all happening
  • communicating, communicating, communicating.


There are many different ways you can put together a ‘system’ for your farm. It’s up to you how you do that – to make sure it fits with how you operate. There are no ‘right’ ways to do this – just make sure you have covered the ‘must do’ list.

As a check: see our ‘Good Practice Self assessment Table’ at the back of this guide for a list of the things you need to have thought through as you develop something that works for you.

You need to prevent work-related harm to worker’s health, for example noise, chemicals, work-related stress and fatigue.
Make sure you have put in place:
  • controls for work-related health risks
  • processes to check for worker exposure to substances hazardous to health
  • processes to monitor worker’s health, especially when monitoring is prescribed
  • checks to make sure you are acting when monitoring shows health risks are not being managed.

Businesses are encouraged to promote the general health and well being of workers; for example by reducing the risk of obesity and other lifestyle diseases, and contributing to worker resilience and wellbeing.