Phones at Harvest

Blog Post (2)

Mobile phone use at harvest time is a big issue, whilst they can be great, there is a lot of potential for accidents, injury and poor performance related to phone use. There is a lot of talk on social media about it,  and a lot of frustrated bosses and staff.


Put a dollar value on breakdowns and accidents
Machinery has always been expensive. In 2022 it was expensive and almost unattainable. Spare parts can be difficult to procure. Grain prices are great, so the cost of spills and misses are even more significant.

Tell your workers how much the machine they are driving is worth, how long it might take to replace a damaged auger or comb. Clearly explain what down time and errors costs your business and put a dollar on it. Many may not understand the cost of downgraded grain resulting from weather events and exacerbated by harvest delays. If you are a contractor, explain it from the perspective of both your business and the farmer client.

Talk from the heart
Most work days are totally forgettable. The day I had to tell a family their Dad was dead has been permanently etched on my mind in exquisite detail. It mattered very little that I was not on his worksite at the time, that he died of a heart attack and there was nothing anyone could have done.

Whilst many people talk about being sued or prosecuted by work cover as the biggest risk you could face, it’s not, it’s telling the family and the ongoing impacts of the trauma.

Don’t be afraid of getting personal in your conversations. “Safety is everyone’s responsibility; I do not want to ring your mother or kids and tell them you are dead”

Highlight the double danger of social media posts

You might have seen lots of people posting pictures of themselves dancing on tractors, having lunch on top of moving headers, doing unsafe things on silos. Explain how in your business these sorts of actions will costs them their job. Also explain how posting these sorts of videos to social media will also damage their future employment prospects. It might impress some mates and get a few likes but farmers and contractors just will not want to give them a job.

Conversations like this can feel awkward, especially if you are having them with people you consider your equals in terms of experience and age. Like a first kiss, the more you do it, the better at it you get.


Clearly set your policy
This is going to be different from business to business and will depend on service, staff roles availability of other in paddock communication. Don’t be afraid of having different rules for different roles in the business. A bagger operator or truck driver may be able to access their phone during work time for logistical reasons or during waiting times, a trainee chaser bin driver or header driver might be expected to leave it in a vehicle or in their esky.

You really should require staff to turn off all notifications on all social media apps. It sounds pretty simple but silencing the pinging really helps reducing the temptation of picking up the phone.

Putting your policy in writing and getting your staff to sign off on it is good for legal reasons, however it also has the benefit of emphasizing how important this is to you and formalising the conversation.

Manage Fatigue

Managing fatigue is important in and of itself, but excessive phone use is often a symptom of fatigue. When we are tired our impulse control is low and it is harder to manage temptation (chocolate biscuit at 3pm anyone?)

The other factor is we often reach for our phones when we are tired because we are also bored and seeking entertainment. The brain chemical dopamine is released when something fun happens and it gives us a bit of a rush. Many phone apps, games, sounds and graphics are specifically decided to trigger this response, and when we are tired we seek it more.

Ensuring workers are well rested and well fed will positively impact on phone use.

Look at other options
Simple button phones are still available. Check out this cool option from Australia Post. It’s $79. Swap in your own sim to have a low tech no social media option that allows communication but not the social media or gaming.

Let’s face it, the worst culprits can be our own teenage children. The paid app Qustodio can be handy as it allows you to restrict internet access (only allowing phone calls and texts) at particular times of day. On the days they don’t manage to convince you that they are essential down the paddock and make it to school, it works there too.

Walk the talk

Sorry, it’s not them and us! Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own behaviour, even the boss. 

Want more info

Dr Kristy Goodwin
The guru of digital issues in the home and workplace – she is Australian and an expert in the field.

House Paddock Training and Consulting
and Inspire AgAg industry leaders in WHS and HR areas.

Hoping you dodge the rain and can get it all off soon

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