The People in Dairy
In This Module

Health and safety risk management

Everyone wants a safe place to live and work. The challenge with dairy farms is that they are workplaces and also places where families live. For the people working on the farm, there are some very busy periods, long days, a wide range of weather conditions and the requirement to handle large animals and work with potentially hazardous equipment, environments and substances. Older and younger family members are quite often at greater risk of harm if exposed to these hazards.

The prevention of personal injury and ill health associated with working and living on the farm is a priority.

All farm businesses have an obligation under law to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees, contractors, family, visitors and members of the public. Farm businesses who don’t act to fulfill health and safety responsibilities face significant fines and penalties.

All of these factors mean that managing risks to achieve a healthy and safe workplace and home is a vital part of running a farm. Every farm is different and, even though there are similarities in work practices and risks, every farm needs its own risk control solutions to achieve the best safety outcomes.

Emotional resilience is another factor to consider - it's the willingness and capacity to accept that there will be good and bad times ahead, understand our reactions to these experiences, and have strategies to manage them (see fact sheet below)

Where do you start? First – know your legal obligations. Then develop an approach to health and safety that is part of your overall farm management.

Getting started
Farm Safety Starter Kit to enable you to get your farm safety system started or improve the existing system.
Building emotional resilience fact sheet: includes practical ways to help build mental and emotional resilience and signposting to further resources.

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Health and safety legislation

Since 1 January 2012, new nationally uniform work health and safety laws have started to be put in place across all Australian states and territories. 

Read the health and safety legislation fact sheet which includes changes to definitions & responsibilities, person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), workers, officers, current laws and Workcover (inc. a case study).

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Farm health and safety management systems

A health and safety management system is a set of plans, actions and procedures to systematically prevent accident, illness, injury or fatality on the farm. It works by eliminating or controlling hazards instead of dealing with a mishap after it occurs.

Good farm businesses actively endorse their health, safety and welfare management system to achieve a safe and healthy workplace equally for employees, contractors and family members, through:

  • identification of workplace hazards, assessment and control of all risks;
  • active involvement in health, safety and welfare matters by all farm people; and
  • provision of information, instruction and training at all levels.

A successful health and safety management system should start with setting up a safe work environment and establishing safe work practices. This is the best way to reduce the risk of injuries and ill health to people and damage to property. A safety management system that relies only on safe work practices is risky because people can forget procedures or make mistakes. This risk can be reduced if workplace hazards are removed or controlled. A safe environment should always be supported by safe work practices.

The key steps to manage the environment and people elements of farm health and safety are:

  1. Consult with workers – there must be a system in place for workers (and others on the farm) to contribute and participate in the farm’s health and safety program.
  2. Identify hazards in a systematic way.
  3. Assess the risks associated with those hazards.
  4. Eliminate or control the risks to prevent injury and ill health.
  5. Track results and review steps 1-4 on a regular basis.
  6. Keep records of all these processes.

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Consult with workers (and others on the farm)

There is a legislative requirement for you to actively consult with workers about health and safety matters that could directly affect them. You must also consult any independent contractors (and their employees). If the employees are represented by a health and safety representative, you must include that person in the consultation.

Good consultation
  • Timing is early, before decisions are locked down, and there is adequate time for employees to participate. The employer is interested in and values employees’ perspectives.
  • There are opportunities for one-to-one communication with employees and clear, regular feedback.

To ensure that your system is most effective it is important that everyone on the farm becomes involved. Better outcomes are achieved when there is a wide range of ideas about health and safety issues on the farm and how to fix them. There is usually greater commitment to decisions because everyone is involved in reaching them.

Ways to get and keep people involved
  • Work directly with the people who do the jobs in each part of the farm to identify hazards, assess risks and come up with solutions. 
  • Set regular times to discuss health and safety, such as at weekly job planning meetings, and ensure time is allocated specifically to health and safety matters. Some businesses have occupational, health and safety committees that keep minutes and actions from their meetings. Click here for a template to record the details discussed in a health and safety meeting. 
  • Provide a good role model and insist that the farm safety protocols you have established are followed. A record of consultation is good practice and may help demonstrate compliance.
  • How good is your safety on farm system? Based on the Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation, the Safety System Snapshot will give you a good idea on how you farm measures up against WHS law. It allows you to assess the safety systems on your farm in a ‘traffic light’ format. It takes about 15 minutes to complete and can be done by the Farm Manager alone or by involving all of the farm team.

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Identify hazards

The first step to improving safety on a farm is to systematically identify all the hazards to health, safety and welfare on the property. Hazards are anything on the farm – infrastructure or the way things are done – that have the potential to cause harm to a person. For example, climbing a silo, using a quad bike, putting tapes across a laneway, workplace bullying, handling farm chemicals, cupping up heifers. 

  Farm Safety Starter KitQuick Safety Scans (14 scans): a set of 30 minute scans on the key hazard areas, designed to assist you in identifying and fixing hazards
 identified. The safety scans are designed to be used when setting up your safety system and then for ongoing reviews. Download the Farm Safety Starter kit or order your copy here

Keeping a record of hazard identification is good practice, a useful management and monitoring tool, and it may help demonstrate compliance.

Using the Farm Safety Starter Kit

Developed by dairy farmers for dairy farmers, the Farm Safety Starter Kit provides practical, easy to use resources to enable you to get your farm safety system started or improve the existing system. 
Download the Farm Safety Starter kit or order your hard copy here

Discuss the use of the Starter Kit with an adviser who has some background in health and safety assessment.

Report safety issues and hazards

A procedure for reporting and addressing occupational health and safety hazards and issues needs to be established. This procedure should also include a process for resolving issues or disputes.

View an example Occupational health and safety issue resolution procedure that you can use to create one for your own farm. If an employee identifies a hazard or occupational health and safety issue, they should report it to their direct supervisor or manager and health and safety representative, and established procedures should be followed.

   View our template for a Hazard or Near Miss Report

Any injuries, accidents or incidents that occur on the farm should be reported and investigated.

Use the Injury and Incident Register to record details of the incident and the Injury and Incident Investigation report for the follow-up investigation.

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Assess the risks

Where a hazard has been identified it is useful to make an assessment of the degree of risk associated with the hazard. Although this may seem fairly subjective it will help determine priorities for short-term and long-term action. The degree of risk is a combination of the frequency of the exposure to the hazard, and the potential severity of the injury. All HIGH risks require urgent action to fix.

Some controls to certain hazards are obvious and just need fixing, note them and just do it. Other controls may require some short-term measures to reduce risk until more effective and long-term solutions can be implemented.

In the table below, the degree of risk is given for a hazard by taking into account the consequence of exposure to the hazard and its frequency.

Outcome Frequency of exposure to the hazard
  Daily Weekly Monthly Rarely
Negligible injuries MEDIUM MEDIUM LOW LOW

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Eliminate or control the risks

Once significant risks have been identified you must take action to control them. This may involve, for example, repairs, disposal, guarding, re-design of infrastructure, providing personal protective equipment, re-design of work procedures, signage or training or a combination of controls.

Some controls may be short term, for example, locking up chemicals in an old shed or vat room until a purpose built or renovated chemical store is provided.

Make a plan showing what will be done, who will do it, and when it will be done by.

  Along with hazard identification and ratings, the dairy farm safety inspection checklist can also be used for documenting the actions required to control risks.

Where possible look for ways to eliminate hazards (especially those of HIGH risk). The methods and priorities for controlling risks are often addressed in the following order:

  1. Elimination of the hazard

    If a hazard can be eliminated there is no risk of injury. An easy way of eliminating hazards is at the first stage of purchasing or installing a piece of equipment or selecting a chemical. It may also include the disposal or destruction of the hazard.

  2. Substitution of the hazard

    If the hazard cannot be eliminated, it may be able to be substituted with one that is less harmful, for example, install a quieter vacuum pump or use a less hazardous chemical.

  3. Use of engineering controls

    If the hazard cannot be substituted or eliminated, engineering controls can be effective ways to reduce the risk of hazards occurring. These controls include barriers to isolate people or animals from the hazard, such as a guard cover on a feed auger, a safety switch on an electrical system, or the construction of a chemical storage shed.

  4. Safe work practices and administrative controls
       If engineering controls cannot be applied, a mix of work practice changes should be considered. This involves revising the standard operating procedures for the task (use the Generator to create SOPs), and possibly training, induction and safety signage. Safe work practices may also need to be established to support engineering controls.
  5. Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

    This is always the last control measure to be considered. There is still a potential risk to the individual because the effectiveness relies on wearing and using PPE properly. Although PPE is effective for the individual using it, PPE provides no protection for other workers or bystanders. If you have controlled or eliminated the risk by some other method you may not need to wear PPE. PPE includes face shields, respirators, dust masks, earmuffs or gloves. Personal protective equipment is often used in conjunction with other risk control measures.

How you control risks must stand the test of practicability, an occupational health and safety term often cited in legislation.

Practicability takes into account:

  • the likelihood of a hazard or risk occurring;
  • the potential seriousness of injury or harm;
  • the state of knowledge about that hazard or risk, and any ways of eliminating or reducing that hazard or risk;
  • the availability and suitability of ways to remove or reduce that hazard or risk; and
  • the cost of eliminating or reducing that hazard or risk.
'SAFER' Principles
Farm Scenario

Darren is a farm manager on a 500-cow dairy farm in south west Victoria and one of his many responsibilities is to ensure the safety of everyone on the farm. Because safety is really important to him and everyone else on the farm, Darren thought it would be a good idea to put a sign up over his desk to remind him how to make the farm safer by identifying and removing any hazards. The sign helped Darren to think about safety even when he was busy with other tasks. This is the sign that Darren used.

See - identify the hazards to health and safety on the farm
Assess - decide the risk associated with the hazard
Fix - take appropriate action to control the risk
Evaluate - check your controls are effective
Record - record actions you take or plan
Good housekeeping reduces hazards

Many of the hazards on dairy farms can be reduced by regular housekeeping. e.g. returning chemicals to the store, laying hoses against the wall or rolling them up and keeping tractor cabs clean and uncluttered.

Ensure everyone on the farm is instructed in, understands and complies with farm safety facilities, procedures and protocols. For example, ensure the health and safety issues are covered in your induction processes for new employees, contractors, visitors and students. Provide them with copies of the farm safety protocols and work through it with them at relevant times. New employees, especially the young and the inexperienced, are at greatest risk when recently employed. Ensure you provide sufficient instruction and training as well as adequate supervision. It is critical that you establish very quickly that employees should communicate with you or their supervisor if they feel unsafe and to stop and talk it through.

All new employees, contractors and visitors should complete a safety induction when arriving on your farm. You can use the following to guide safety inductions:

  • Dairy Safety Induction for Employees
  • Contractor Safety Induction Checklist (updated August 2017) 
  • Visitor Safety Induction Checklist (updated August 2017)
  • Health and safety is just one part of the induction process for new employees. Read more about Induction in the recruitment section.

    When you engage a contractor to work on your farm it is important to know that their presence won’t put anyone’s safety at risk.

    Existing employees, contractors and sometimes some family members are quite often the most challenging to engage when implementing change on the farm, such as the farm safety policies and procedures. The best way to address this is to involve them in the process at the beginning to ensure they have input and establish ownership.

    Remember, induction is not only for new employees - it also needs to be established when introducing new equipment and processes for the first time e.g. operation of a new dairy or tractor.

    Farm safety protocols

    Safety protocols are documents outlining the safety standards expected by a farm business. They are not a procedure or action but a description of the business’ guidelines for each of the major safety areas on the farm. These areas include:

    • personal health, safety, welfare and hygiene;
    • quads and motor bikes;
    • tractors, vehicles and implements;
    • moving equipment;
    • water;
    • manual handling;
    • confined spaces;
    • working at heights;
    • farm infrastructure;
    • chemicals and sprays;
    • electricity; and
    • animal handling.

    Providing documented farm safety protocols for all staff helps to control risks on the farm, prevent injury and ill health and assist in meeting legal compliance.

    The Generator enables you to create a list of safety protocols for your farm. You can use this list to start the process of specifying how work practices support health and safety on your farm

    Farm Scenario

    ABC DAIRY FARM PTY LTD recently employed a new milker on the farm and conducted a review of the farm operating procedures. As part of the review they also decided to check their safety protocols were still appropriate. The farm manager used The People in Dairy Generator to put together the following protocol around the use of bikes and quads.


    Motorbikes and quads

    The farm motorbike policy is designed to protect all of us from the potential hazards that may result in injury.

    The motorbikes and quads are to be well maintained at all times.

    New employees shall receive training and/or assessment before operating the motorbikes or quads.

    Everyone who is approved to use the vehicles is issued with personal helmets. These are named inside the helmet and are stored in the dairy.

    Helmets are to be worn at all times when riding quad or motorbike.

    Riders are not permitted to carry passengers. Only riders approved by the manager may ride the farm motorbikes. Children are not permitted on motorbikes or quads.

    The speed is limited to 40 km/h on good tracks, however, care must be taken to ride within your limits given the conditions. Speed will be limited to 10 kph around buildings.

    Any mechanical malfunctions or damage must be reported to the supervisor or manager. Do not ride any quad or motorbike if you consider it to be dangerous.

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    Track results and review

    Once your farm health and safety management system is in place it should be monitored and regularly reviewed. This involves:

    • regularly monitoring health safety action plans;
    • going through the inspection checklist regularly (at least annually);
    • continuing to be on the lookout for new hazards and anticipating those that might occur from changes in work practices or with using new equipment;
    • regularly consulting with employees and contractors;
    • checking that control measures are really working;
    • ensuring near misses, incidents and injuries are reported, investigated and actioned; and
    • monitoring workers’ health e.g. hearing tests.

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    Keep records

    It is worth setting up simple records to document all of the processes covered so far in this module: recording consultations with people on the farm; hazard analysis and plans to control risks, actions and results; and induction and training (signed by the employee). Keeping these records is good business practice and may help demonstrate compliance if a problem occurs.

    Here are some templates you can use to document other records that you should keep: 


    You should also keep records, or copies, of claims, notified injuries and significant incidents.

    Go to Record and Report Incidents section for practical descriptions of what and how to record and report accidents and incidents that occur on farm.

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    Other sources of information and help

  • Dairy Safety: A Practical Guide 2nd edition (WorkSafe Victoria)
  • Beef Cattle Handling a Practical Safety Guide 1st edition Nov 2006 (WorkSafe Victoria) - a practical and relevant guide to all cattle handling with an emphasis on yard design, on farm sales and cattle handling skills
  • Safe Cattle Handling: Practical Guide (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety) – has a beef focus but includes some good tips
  • A Handbook for Workplaces: Quad Bikes on Farms 2nd edition August 2009 (WorkSafe Victoria) - includes information as a resultof a coronial enquiry into deaths associated with quad bike operation
  • A Handbook for Workplaces: Post Driver Industry Safety Standard 1st edition Sept 2009 (WorkSafe Victoria) - for Vic, NSW, Qld and WA
  • A Handbook for Workplaces: Grain Augers Industry Safety Standard (WorkSafe Victoria)  - a guide for Vic, NSW, Qld and WA
  • A Handbook for Workplaces: Safe Use of Tractors with Attachments 1st edition June 2009 (WorkSafe Victoria)
  • Preventing and Responding to Bullying at Work 3rd edition June 2009 (WorkSafe Victoria) - a general guide from NSW and Vic
  • Preventing Work-Related Stress for Employers in the Private Sector 1st edition June 2009 (WorkSafe Victoria)
  • More Information About Consultation: Minimum Requirements for Complying with the Employer Duty (WorkSafe Victoria)
  • Child Safety on Farms (The Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety) - booklet
  • Child Safety on Rural Properties (Farmsafe Australia Inc) - checklist 
  • Child Safe Play Areas on Farms (Farmsafe Australia Inc) - flyer about safe areas & how to create one
  •  A number of government, industry and commercial resources are available to assist farmers to develop robust Health and Safety Management Systems.These include:

    Farmsafe Australia with links to the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety Useful information on specific hazards (including checklists and record templates), child safety on farms and farm injury statistics.
    Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Range of reports, publications and fact sheets on farm safety. Many are industry specific.
    Cowtime project Making Milking Easier The Pits and People section provides good information on the impact milking has on people. Includes good stretching regime for warming up before milking.
    Workcover authorities

    All state websites have a rural section with various guidance material.
    New Zealand Accident Compensation Corporation Industry specific information on a range of farm hazards.
    The New Zealand Department of Labour Health and Safety section Very good guide on safe design of rotary dairies.

    Private insurance companies also offer occupational health and safety programs. Independent and qualified external farm audit services and service providers are also available with the expertise to provide advice on health and safety issues affecting workers. Other good sources of information are your state and federal farmer organisations.

      CowTime has produced some videos with useful health and safety tips for milking.
    Pits 'n' People: The impact of milking on people and the impact of people on milking (looks at OH&S issues in the dairy).
    Exercises for milking: How to physically prepare for milking. 
    Read about dairy education which includes training in Farm Safety Management, as well as courses in operating equipment and machinery.

    Safety procedures and safety protocols

    The Generator allows you to generate standard operating procedures, safety procedures and safety protocols for your farm. The Safety Protocols template has been produced using the generator and covers a lot of detail. There is a 'spot to sign' at the bottom, which can be used as evidence that you have been through the elements with the farm team.

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