Best Practice Guidelines for Ground-spread Fertiliser in New Zealand
Section 7: Specific Hazards and Environmental factors
Knowing the specific hazards that are relevant to the products you are working with is important and the information can be found in the SDS. However you may also encounter other products such as slug baits that you may not specifically be using. Do not under any circumstances handle slug baits or allow slug baits to come into contact with your skin.
You have a responsibility to assess the hazards you may face and ensure that appropriate controls are in place. If you are unsure, find out from the Principal (eg farm owner, farm hand) if there are any other products or specific hazards in or around your work area.
Hazards and risk assessment
The driver/operator shares responsibility for hazard identification. All workers have the right to refuse to carry out a job if they feel the conditions are unsafe. This right relates to the specific hazard or task that is unsafe. If there are alternative tasks that may be performed (such as spreading another paddock), these should be carried out until satisfactory conditions are present.
There are several types of hazards: driver induced, ground based, machine based and environmental conditions. In this industry, potential harm is almost always serious.
When carrying out the hazard identification (or risk assessment) the driver's state of mind is crucial. As drivers are often working alone, there is rarely the luxury of a second opinion. Risk assessment starts when you first arrive in the paddock and continues until the job is finished. As part of your planning, always have a way out if something unexpected occurs.
Attitude and complacency
Working in high-risk industries often leads a more relaxed attitude towards taking risks. Many accidents involve experienced drivers and while the 'she'll be right' attitude is slowly changing, there is still a long way to go to alter the blas mindset that some operators have. The environment is constantly changing, even the time of day may affect the conditions.
It is not a competition to go the most extreme places. Listen to instructions. A driver's life is worth more than a bit of fertiliser on a steep bank; usually fertiliser on a steep siding has minimal effect as lack of soil depth and lack of moisture due to run-off are more limiting.
Fatigue and distractions
As discussed earlier, fatigue can be a major hazard that is often underestimated. Fatigue can have a significant effect on decision making. Contributing factors include:
- Time of day.
- Total hours worked.
- General health.
- Pressure of work/home environment.
Distractions can vary from person to person. Given the nature of this industry, it is important to reduce distractions to a minimum. Eliminate hazards where possible by keeping the cab clear of any loose objects that could interfere with your driving. Before attempting marginal terrain, ensure that you are familiar with equipment. Inspect the slope before you start and identify hazards that may not have been immediately obvious.
Also, while an extra set of eyes and ears can sometimes be useful, passengers can be a major distraction. If you have a passenger make sure your focus does not stray from the task at hand.
GPS is a useful tool, but at the end of the day it is just a computer; you are the expert and need to make sure it doesn't send you into unsuitable conditions. GPS can be used to assist in working off sloped areas. Reduce distractions wherever possible - if the light bars are a distraction, turn them off.
Safety belts and operator protective structures
Safety belts must be worn on the road if fitted. It is recommended that safety belts be worn if the truck has an operator protective safety structure. Operator protective structures should be fitted to the vehicle if there is any possibility of a roll-over. Given that many machines will need to operate on slopes, roll-over is a potential hazard and adequate controls must be put in place.
All drivers should be competent and fully trained for all machinery they are using. Complete your daily inspection before you start and ensure the machine has undergone regular maintenance. In this way you can be confident of your machine and concentrate on your driving.
Different tyre types react differently in different conditions. Also, as tyre wear occurs, traction properties change.
Some fertilisers will flow to one side of the bin on slopes, causing a rapid shift in weight distribution.
Many factors influence conditions on the day. Inspect the ground carefully and walk the paddock if necessary. Plan your route and be aware of uneven ground. Surface conditions can have more effect on traction than slope. Test the brakes on the surface and make sure you have a plan in case problems occur.
Pasture composition and sudden terrain changes
Be familiar with the type of pasture you are working on and how it may affect your work. For example:
- The amount of sap in plants - e.g. thistles, clover.
- Plants with no root structure e.g. moss, areas with grass-grub.
- Sprayed areas have no root structure and dead material can become greasy.
- Long grass can have a lot of moisture underneath.
- Leaking troughs
- Rabbit holes
- Sheep tracks
- Bull holes
- Plough lines
Slope and aspect
Know the hazards that you may be working with. Choose the right gear. The ability to read slope and changes in slope comes with experience. Work off flatter areas before attempting sloping areas. Use your spread-width to keep off steeper areas where possible. Plough line is the limit and be aware of any old horse plough lines.
South-facing slopes have a different pasture composition and more soil moisture. The presence of moss increases the potential for accidents.
Environment and weather changes
These are constantly changing and therefore need to be constantly monitored. Identify the potential hazards and be aware of anything that may affect you, your machinery and equipment, and the spreading. These include factors such as:
- Fog and mist
- Frost and ice
- Thawing frost or ice is the most dangerous.
- Watch for shaded areas with soft ground.
- Rain after a dry spell is very dangerous - creates conditions that can cause aquaplaning.
- Oily film on roads also rises to the top of moisture.
Access, bridges and culverts
Access tracks can be more dangerous than the paddocks - most are clay based. Sudden weather changes can quickly change the surface of a clay track.
Most bridges and culverts on farms do not have a tonnage rating. If you are in doubt of whether they can support your machinery, verify with the farmer or discuss the possibility of alternative access.