Ensuring employees' health

Last week, my colleague Sean Maskill wrote about the obligations that farm owners and managers have to ensure the mental health of their employees, contractors and other workers. 

Farmers are not psychologists or doctors.  It might seem absurd to expect farm owners to identify risks to their workers’ mental health.  Nevertheless, farm owners can take steps to identify and eliminate or minimise risks to mental health.

For example, fatigue is a potential risk to mental health faced by farm workers. Farm owners need to be active in ensuring fatigue is eliminated or minimised (so far as reasonably practicable).  This is easier said than done when every person tolerates fatigue differently. 

The risk of fatigue can be minimised by taking preventative steps like agreeing to the maximum number of days that can be worked consecutively without a break, agreeing maximum hours of work per day, requiring consistent rest breaks, and ensuring workers are drinking water and eating meals regularly.  

These steps are all the more important when the worker is in the field from dusk till dawn during calving.

Identifiable signs of fatigue include tiredness, slow responses, moodiness and poor concentration.  If a worker shows any of these signs then asking the worker how they are feeling and if they need a break are a good first steps.  If there is lighter work needing to be done this could be provided as an alternative until the worker is no longer showing signs of fatigue.  If those preventative steps are unsuccessful, the farm owner could consider arranging a relief worker to allow the worker time to recover. 

Although stopping work or taking breaks will slow production in the short term, long-term it can have the opposite effect.  If a worker works without any regular breaks or meaningful rest their work rate will eventually slow, they will make more mistakes, and they seriously increase their risk of suffering depression.

Engaging a temporary worker could be the difference between a decent worker remaining an asset or becoming a liability to the farm.

Of course, farm workers must also take reasonable care for their own health and safety.  Workers should be getting a good night’s sleep on work nights, eating an adequate diet and drinking plenty of water. 

If a worker is still showing signs of fatigue after you have taken preventative steps, it could come down to the worker’s lifestyle outside of work.  It may be worth asking about their sleep and diet patterns. 

Advising them to try and get eight hours of sleep a night, lay off the booze and have a decent breakfast in the morning could help them turn the situation around. 

Support organisations, like the Rural Support Trust, can help farm owners and workers develop strategies to manage risks to mental health. Similarly, farmers can take advantage of the GoodYarn workshop series, which helps rural professionals and farmers understand mental health and wellness, and provides tips on how to stay healthy, recognise stress in others and respond effectively.

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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