National FMG Young Farmer of the Year finalist Joseph Watts says industry campaigns and growing professionalism are driving awareness of health and safety among shearers, yet, he still sees plenty of room for improvement.
Joseph, who is from Waipukurau, will be representing the East Coast in the national competition this month.
He began his rural career as a shearer after completing a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise and playing squash professionally for several years.
Joseph is now a Technical Field Representative for PGG Wrightson as well as farming beef cattle on a 30 acre site with his partner Lucy Dowsett.
In 2018, Federated Farmers and the New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association, with support from ACC and WorkSafe, joined forces to implement the Tahi Ngatahi programme to improve safety and performance in the country’s woolsheds.
Joseph says he has started to see the positive impact of the programme in the industry.
“There’s good information available and I’m seeing awareness growing steadily,” says Joseph.
“People are starting to view shearing as a long-term professional career, where you can operate and compete at a high level.
Putting in the effort for safety
“They are starting to recognise that if they want to do it long term, they need to look after themselves,” he says.
“I think people have always recognised that if you keep your equipment sharp, that makes shearing easier, but there has been less understanding of how using blunt equipment will affect your body in the future.
“There are still those who can’t be bothered to put the effort into good maintenance but there is definitely more awareness around that.
“You also see a growing number of shearers bringing their own shearing machines to sheds to make sure equipment is in the best shape for shearing,” says Joseph.
Joseph says hygiene is another issue that is gradually improving but could still be better.
“I was what you could call a ‘tidy kid’ and always very aware about good hand-washing practices, especially before eating,” he says.
“When I started shearing, I just had to get over that because there were sheds that literally had no hand washing facilities.
“You have to eat to keep your energy up and you wouldn’t want to use your water bottle to wash because there was nowhere to refill it, so I would be handling food with my hands covered with grease, wool and worse.
“That is getting better, but every shed should have running water, liquid soap and paper towels to dry your hands,” says Joseph.
More regulations, less accidents
While shearing full-time, Joseph was fortunate to escape serious injury when he was knocked unconscious by the spinning bucket of an old wool press.
“I did notice things were starting to get better around the time I left shearing, largely due to awareness about the new regulations coming in,” he says.
"That included replacing old machinery, like wool presses.”
Information about health, safety and wellbeing for people working in the sector, including stretching, strengthening and nutrition, is available through the Tahi Ngatahi website.