Farm working conditions - do they matter?
This month we continue our series of articles on labour in British Dairying.
Farming is seen by many as a dirty job with long hours and poor working conditions. But does it have to be this way?
“Livestock farming can be a dirty job but we can create safe and pleasant working conditions despite this” suggests Paul Harris from REAL Success. “We need to change the perspective of working conditions for those within and outside the industry if we are to secure sufficient labour resources in the future .”
Here are some simple tips for ensuring your farm has positive working conditions for your staff, retaining those that currently work with you and attracting those who may come for an interview.
1. First impressions count
What do people see when they arrive at your farm. Is it a rusty old sign hanging off its hinges or is there a clear and smart board that greets them as they enter your farm drive? When a member of staff arrives for work at 4.30am in the darkness of midwinter, is the drive well lit? Can I park my car somewhere safe? These first impressions, repeated day after day, can reduce or maintain morale amongst your team. It takes little time or money to replace signs or light bulbs but don’t dismiss their significance to existing staff and potential new recruits.
2. Health and Safety
What is your attitude toward health and safety and do you lead from the front? Or do you see health and safety as a barrier to the smooth running of your farm and prefer not to wear a helmet on a quad bike? As one of the most dangerous industries to work in, a lazy attitude towards health and safety is likely to result in accidents and even worse, major injury. This is an area that the whole industry needs to improve and it begins with a state of mind that intends to keep your staff, your family and yourself, safe. Don’t cut corners here as the consequences can be fatal, both for families and your business.
3. Heating and ventilation
Keeping your staff warm whilst they’re at work, can be seen as both expensive and a challenge. But strategically placed heaters in the parlour, recognising where a wind blows and adding some physical barriers, can hugely improve morale and performance. Similarly, if your parlour or sheds are like an oven in summer, you’ve probably installed fans to keep your cows cool but how about your staff?
4. Tools & Equipment
It can be so frustrating for staff if they don’t have the right tools to do their jobs effectively. From the right set of spanners to machinery that is well serviced and cared for, your staff will appreciate your investment in the right equipment. Parlours that don’t break down and tractors that consistently perform their duties, can positively affect the motivation of your team. You may need some protocols to ensure tools are put back in their rightful place, and a planned maintenance schedule, but if you get this aspect of working conditions right, your team will be more loyal and stay on your farm for longer.
The right clothing worn by staff on farm can bring several benefits to staff and the business. Branded corporate clothing that create a sense of belonging whilst also ensuring your staff are warm, safe and clean. Dirty clothing carries germs so encouraging your team to wear overalls provided to them, or coats and hats that carry your farm name, will contribute to a reduction in environmental bacteria whilst also promoting your farm in the local community.
6. Toilets and washing facilities
Do you have a fully functioning working toilet with hot water and clean towels on your farm? Do you make provision for the needs of female staff? Whilst we know the work can be dirty and slurry can create a challenge to keep areas clean, in 2023 should the ability to wash our hands with warm water or go to the toilet where its safe and clean, be seen as a luxury or a basic human need? We can’t expect to encourage people to join our industry if when they come for an interview and ask to go to the toilet, we offer them a shack in the yard with no hot water, no seat for the toilet and a 20w bulb hanging from the roof?
7. Staff room
Do you have a separate area for staff to sit, relax, have a coffee or some food, away from the dirt and noise of the parlour? Or is your staff room a tiny space, dirty and with furniture you’d planned to take to the tip? Your staff room doesn’t have to be luxurious but basic warmth, comfort and cleanliness cost very little along with a working kettle. Microwave and a fridge?
The future pool of labour that is needed to run our farms is not going to come entirely from those who have been born on farms or have worked on farms all their lives. More and more farms are looking to those who currently work in retail, construction or service industries for their staffing requirements and our working conditions, despite the nature of the work, need to compete with the world outside of farming. Is it time to take a look at the working conditions on your farm?