Farmers promoting safe, stress-free workplace

Duncan (left) and Anne-Marie Wells with employees Shae Gosney and Harm Smulders on their Outram...
Duncan (left) and Anne-Marie Wells with employees Shae Gosney and Harm Smulders on their Outram dairy farm. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
At Huntly Road Dairies, Duncan and Anne-Marie Wells have a philosophy when it comes to staff.

"They don't work for us. We work with them. I think there's a bit of a difference there,'' Mr Wells explained.

And the Outram dairy farmer never expected any staff to do something on the farm that he had not done, or was not capable of doing.

Mr and Mrs Wells have been named finalists in the safety and healthy work environment category in the first Primary Industries Good Employer Awards.

The winners of the five categories - innovative employment practices, employee development, Maori agribusiness, safe and health work environments and the Minister's award - will be announced at Parliament on November 27.

In their business, they endeavoured to promote a culture in which staff felt they were safe in their work and there was no pressure to do something they did not feel safe doing, Mr Wells said.

Staff were not left to complete a task unless they - and Mr Wells - believed they were competent to do it.

He worked alongside the staff, Shae Gosney, Harm Smulders, and Joel Gaastra. There were also relief milkers and a calf rearer employed.

The couple had also tried to design the workplace so that it was a "nice place to be'', Mrs Wells said.

Any accidents or injuries were recorded and health and safety was discussed during the regular team meetings.

Having that open channel of communication meant that people were more likely to talk about things, while it was also raised at shareholder meetings, she said.

Mr Gosney, who is in his third season working at Huntly Road Dairies, said he "loved'' his job.

"It's a good farm. Everything is well organised and it's not stressful. I always feel safe,'' he said.

Promoting the dairy industry was something that both Mr and Mrs Wells were passionate about and they regularly welcomed visitors on to their farm.

They had young people from the Malcam Trust's Farmhand programme for work experience, along with secondary school pupils.

They also hosted school visits and, on November 11, will take part in Fonterra's Open Gates initiative.

Selected farms around the country will open for the day and they were hosting the initiative on behalf of Taieri dairy farmers, showcasing the industry in the district.

It was very important for people to see the good side of the industry. While there was much talk about what could be changed, most farmers were doing a ``really good job'' and that was what they wanted to promote and encourage people to see for themselves, Mrs Wells said.

Dairy farming was not just about milking cows; there was so much to the job, from animal health to soil science, and some people did not realise the extent to which new technologies were employed, Mr Wells said.

While the cows were Mr Wells's domain, Mrs Wells was responsible for the administrative side of the business.

Originally from the United Kingdom, she worked as a software engineer and then as a business analyst before moving to New Zealand in 2007.

She recently joined PeopleMAD, a business that specialised in people management and development for small to medium-size businesses with particular expertise in the primary sector.

Her role was around office systems development which she likened to a farm consultant but for the office side of the farming business.

She was working with clients to get office systems in place to reduce the burden of paperwork and make it less stressful and time-consuming.

She was excited about the new role, saying it was something she had wanted to do for years. Completing the Escalator programme, through the Agri-Women's Development Trust last year, gave her the confidence.

"I love the idea of helping somebody feel less stressed,'' she said.

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