Paper vs Digital – What the future holds for farm H&S management

Digital vs Paper: What the future holds for farm Health & Safety management. Henry Ford once remarked, if I’d asked them what they’d wanted they’d have said, faster horses.

Picture this. I’m sure you can.

You’re a responsible farm manager. You care about your own safety and that of your farm employees and visiting contractors.

You’re also aware new Health and Safety at Work legislation came into effect in April 2016 with a focus not only on improving safety culture in New Zealand businesses, but also in raising the bar on penalties imposed on those who pay it scant regard.

It’s the school holidays and you’re away with the family for a couple of days R&R. You’re sure the team on the farm can cope. But out of the blue the irrigation pump for one of the centre pivots goes on the fritz. You call Bill, your electrical contractor. Sweet, he can send out Gary, his new apprentice asap.

Now Gary hasn’t been to your farm and doesn’t really know where he’s heading. It’s also been raining heavily and the track around to the pump shed will be pretty greasy. Wally, one of the share milker’s workers, nearly came a cropper there last month after 15 mls.

You know the guys aren’t going to be around when Gary arrives. You’ve called him and left a message about the track conditions, but you’re not sure if Gary’s received it.

Actually, it would have been great to clearly show him where he’s supposed to access the property and go over the all the other hazards he might stumble upon on his way out to the pump. You wonder if Wally has had time to fill in that trench he’d been digging in paddock six, you hope Gary doesn’t head out that way.

You know it’d be good practice to have Gary do a safety induction and to have him sign in and out – that’s why you had that expensive farm safety audit done last year. There’s a big folder underneath the office PC monitor with all that guff inside. You wonder if Wally could ride the four wheeler out and leave the folder by the front gate? You’re hoping if he can, he has waterproof paper…“

Paper – it’s been a well tested medium for recording every type of historic occurrence for a millennium. Always there, always available. But it’s not always a practical or productive method of recording vital information in the field, especially in a farming environment.

With the advent of new technologies and rapid improvements in mobile broadband coverage, there are numerous innovative companies like who now provide easy to use digital solutions for the very real productivity problem of –

“How to effectively manage my legislated Health and Safety commitments on farm?”

How do paper and the digital methods compare?

Our Health and Safety at Work regulator, Worksafe, emphasise the importance of accurate record keeping in any effective health and safe system.

Paper based systems almost always require someone to be physically present to complete an contractor induction. It requires a central place (your kitchen?) for them to call into, which, in reality, no busy farm operation can practically “man” all the time.

Paper is bulky, can be inaccessible, requires physical storage, deteriorates over time, entries can be illegible and just doesn’t work on farm, in a day to day, practical sense. The outcome is a well intended but useless Health and Safety system tucked neatly in a folder which gathers dust and is never actioned because it is too unwieldy to use.

Digital Health and Safety systems on the other hand are, if mobile broadband access is good, always available. They’re easily accessed by everyone, can be used to create farm maps, easily communicate all hazards, pinpoints additional farm information and provides clear contact details of farm managers. All great ways to improve productivity.

Online systems can effectively and securely store data, can be used to analysis and report H&S records and provide 24hr access to various sources of hazchem/employee training records.

They can also smoothly produce incidents reports on the fly (with images), construct serious harm hazards registers and record tool box meetings.

They’re also handy in posting temporary hazards, like the greasy track example we wanted to warn Gary the apprentice about, so farm managers can be sure contractors and visitors alike are able to be notified of fixed and out of the ordinary hazards.

Most importantly, mobile solutions promote farm managers to actively use a health and safety system through ease of use. The flow on effect is better communication, compliance and of course, everyone’s overarching goal, clear improvements in farm safety culture in general.

Henry Ford once remarked, if I’d asked them what they’d wanted they’d have said, faster horses”. In the battle of digital vs paper, ultimately the market will decide. Old world or new world? Personally, I reckon the day of faster horses, in the record keeping sense, is well and truly over.

As printed in the Young Farmers Magazine “Muster”, Dec 2016.

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