Study finds wellbeing and injury connection

Study finds wellbeing and injury connection

New research has established the links between aspects of diminished wellbeing and on-farm injuries.

The study, commissioned by rural wellbeing initiative Farmstrong, asked 500 farmers receiving ACC to quantify the extent to which different aspects of diminished wellbeing had contributed to their accident.

The results were telling, as well over half (58 percent) of the farmers reported that an aspect of diminished wellbeing had contributed to their accident. And nearly a quarter (24 percent) identified diminished wellbeing as a 'major' contributor to their injury.

The study also found that 30 percent of ACC farmer claim costs had a significant link to diminished wellbeing.

The most mentioned contributing factors included fatigue/exhaustion; lack of sleep; not coping with the ups and downs of farming; needing a break from the farm and having too much to do and not enough time.

However, there is a sign these results can be improved. The study found farmers who engaged in Farmstrong were less likely than others to report diminished wellbeing as a contributor to a serious injury that had a moderate or major impact on their ability to work.

Farmstrong helps farmers cope with the ups and downs of farming by sharing advice on how farmers can look after themselves, and manage stress and pressure, through its website www.farmstrong.co.nz, and at workshops and community events.

Last year, over 18,000 farmers, growers and farmer workers were involved in the initiative. An annual survey in 2019 of farmers and growers (most of whom were owners) found 20 percent (10,000) attributed some level of improvement in their wellbeing to Farmstrong, with 10 percent reporting a 'moderate' to 'large' improvement.

Several farmers shared their stories at the launch of the research. The farmers who shared their stories were different from those who took part in the research (that was all confidential) Paul Walker, who runs a 300-cow, 90-hectare (ha) dairy farm at Pongakawa, just south of Te Puke, says in farming, you could keep going 24/7 if you wanted to.

"There's always something else you can do. But it does take a toll - no one can go hammer and tongs the whole time. You've got to look after yourself or you're not going to last."

Paul learned the hard way about how hazardous fatigue can be.

"Ten years ago, I was very tired after calving and we were having issues with an old fan belt-driven water pump," he says.

"I went to check it and because I was exhausted, I put my hand in the middle of the fan belt and it went through the pulley. It caught me and I lost a finger. It was a hell of a lesson - you're not much use on a farm when you're tired."

Fatigue also played a significant role in the quad bike accident that nearly cost Chris Biddles his life. Chris runs Te Atarangi Angus stud at Te Kopuru, south-west of Dargaville. He was due to have a knee replacement and decided to put in more hours over summer to get ahead.

"I wanted to set the farm up for when I was away, so we just worked and worked. Toward the end of January, I was just exhausted."

On the first of February, it caught up with him in a big way.

"I was really tired, and I knew I was tired, and because of that, I made a dumb decision," Chris says. "I was riding the quad along a ridge to the safe place I usually go down, but I went past it and tried another place. As soon as I put the nose of the quad over the hill, I knew I was stuffed."

Months of surgery and rehabilitation followed. Now looking back, Chris has some advice for other farmers.

"I knew that I was tired, but I still didn't consider the consequences. This is a busy time of the year, so if you realise you're overworking you need to sit down with a cup of coffee and ask yourself, 'if I keep doing everything the way I am, am I putting myself and other people at risk?'"

Farmstrong's Ambassador Sam Whitelock adds there's always a list of things as long as your arm to do on a farm and it's up to farmers to make sure they're not doing too much by creating a realistic list of things to do in a day.

"When you're really fatigued that's when you've got to say, 'that's enough, I'll come back tomorrow fresh and ready to go,' rather than pressing ahead. When you're fatigued, you make poor decisions. That's when accidents can happen."

Farmstrong is a rural wellbeing programme that helps farmers and farming families live well to farm well.

To find out what works for you and "lock it in", check out our farmer-to-farmer videos, stories and tips on www.farmstrong.co.nz