North Otago shearing contractor Grant Murdoch was an early adopter of the wool harvesting industry's new online safety and platform programme Tahi Ngātahi, and now he's working on passing on his enthusiasm for the system to others.

Murdoch is based in Kurow and has been in the industry since he was 19, with more than 30 years' experience in the sheds. He has been contracting for the past 13 years and employs up for 40 staff at peak season.

"At the start for me was it all about the shearing, the money and the travel. It was a pretty cool lifestyle. As I've got older I got into running teams for others, then went into business for myself."

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Murdoch's business is doing well. He said his biggest challenge is getting enough staff.

"That's the largest component of what we do, but staff are becoming harder and harder to find. Finding and keeping them is all about looking after them. Creating a working environment where they are healthy and happy and feel valued."

"As contractors we are in control of that from the moment they get in the van. I remember driving to work in a beat up Falcon. Nowadays our vans all safety-belted and caged. Things have changed a lot."

"But as an industry we've still got a way to go. The younger ones coming through are much more aware of health and safety. It's a factor in the job they choose and who'll they work for."

Tahi Ngātahi's a joint initiative between the NZ Shearing Contractors' Association (NZSCA), Federated Farmers, Worksafe NZ and ACC.

North Otago shearing contractor Grant Murdoch (left) was amongst the first to use the wool harvesting industry's new online safety and wellbeing platform Tahi Ngātahi. Photo / Supplied
North Otago shearing contractor Grant Murdoch (left) was amongst the first to use the wool harvesting industry's new online safety and wellbeing platform Tahi Ngātahi. Photo / Supplied

In 2017 there were 755 work-related injuries in wool harvesting, resulting in 9,300 working days lost to the industry. Tahi Ngātahi is aiming to reduce preventable injuries by 30 per cent.

"The woolshed is a great place to work, but it is a very busy environment. In our fine wool industry, we can have up to 14 people working away in a shed at the same time in different roles. You need to create a great team, so people can perform at their best and stay safe."

The Tahi Ngātahi platform uses short video clips to pass on wellbeing and safety tips to farmers, contractors and their employees. Murdoch believed it's a big step up from previous health and safety initiatives.

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"It's visual for a start. Our people are hands-on learners. How do you show someone how to catch and drag a sheep safely just using a bit of paper? With Tahi Ngātahi they can look at a video, answer a few questions and they've actually learnt something."

"That old paper-based approach just didn't work. People read the manual and chucked it in a cupboard. How effective is that? That's why the accident stats haven't got any better. We have to regulate and control our own work environments to make them as safe as we can."

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Murdoch has supplied his shearing crews with an iPad with Tahi Ngātahi already loaded, so staff can learn on the job and learn with others in groups of two or three.

"The best way to get value out of Tahi Ngātahi is do it in-house and do it with your staff. We might sit down and have a coffee, watch some Tahi Ngātahi videos and chat about a few other things at the same time."

He liked the way Tahi Ngātahi goes into broader areas like dealing with stress, nutrition and body conditioning, which are good for his business.

"People have all sorts of stresses in their lives and they still have to go to work. It's how you deal with it that counts so if we can help our crews we should. The videos will definitely help. It just normalises those conversations."

Murdoch's also a fan of Tahi Ngātahi's Warrant of Fitness approach to the shed facilities.

"There's no doubt that some of the old machinery and plant and presses in our industry have seen their day. I can understand people not wanting to invest if they aren't getting money for their cross-bred wool, but at the end of the day you still need people to be safe and happy to do a good job."

"Tahi Ngātahi's a really helpful tool for having that conversation. You can sit down with your farmer and run through the video with them. They get it straight away and any issues in our workplaces have been immediately dealt with."

Murdoch said his business was thinking of including Tahi Ngātahi in its employment contracts and incentivising staff by tying wage increases to the completion of their Tahi Ngātahi certificate.

"We try and create a family environment and involve our staff as much as possible so they have a sense of ownership. That's why Tahi Ngātahi is such a great tool. It's easy to use. Once you load it, it's simple to go through and it doesn't take a lot of time for people to learn."

"The fact you've got the NZ Merino Company making it part of their ZQ quality assurance programme speaks volumes about how good it is. I think Tahi Ngātahi will work a treat, the industry just needs to get on board and back it."

To find out more about Tahi Ngātahi visit www.tahingatahi.co.nz