A passionate advocate for creating positive change in rural industries, Allison ‘Alli’ Clark is not only the 2018 AgriFutures Rural Woman of the Year (TAS), but a triplet, a wife, a mother, a Masters of Business Administration graduate and a businesswoman. Based on a farm in southern Tasmania’s apple-clad Huon Valley, Alli describes herself as a ‘rural woman at heart’ who cherishes spending time with her family, and having a laugh.

When asked what concerned Alli regarding the health and safety of those in rural industries and communities, she highlighted the ‘she’ll be right’ mentality, which often instigates behaviours that can be summarised by the phrase ‘what loved ones don’t see, doesn’t hurt them’. A firm believer in the simple necessity to ‘stop and think’ before you act, Alli also heeds the importance of providing a psychologically safe environment for workers to speak up, to stop what they’re doing and to ascertain whether there’s a better, safer way of doing the task at hand.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

A rural woman at heart.

What's one achievement you are most proud of?

Completing my Masters in Business Administration part-time, with a busy career and a family.

What makes you truly happy?

Laughing and spending time with my family.

What do you love the most about being a rural woman?

My passion for creating positive change in the rural sector and the fact that many rural communities are prepared to let you ‘have a crack’.

Tell me about a time when you felt worried about your own or someone else’s health, safety or wellbeing on the farm, boat or in some other aspect of rural life.

Can be summed up by saying ‘what loved ones (or your boss) don’t see, doesn’t hurt them’. 

The ‘she’ll be right’ attitude that leads many farmers and workers to try a fix something before they consider ‘spending too much money’ or getting the experts in. It’s what we have always done on the land and provides many with a sense of achievement, however I once found my father-in-law lifting a ute to work underneath it using forklift forks and a piece of rope, and tying the bumper of the ute to the raised forklift forks. Of course he waited until we were all away to do this.

What practical things did or could you, your partner and / or others do to prevent someone from getting hurt?

The first thing is self-awareness. Stop and think. If you don’t realise yourself that someone might get hurt from an activity and you are there helping, then you are both at fault. I’ve seen a few occasions where significant injuries have occurred and people have been standing by and watching without an understanding of the consequences. Training for all in basic Occupational Health and Safety awareness and providing them with the courage to stop an activity helps as a starting point. 

Further to this, people can be afraid to stop an activity if their boss is involved, or if they feel that they’ll be reprimanded or lose their job. (In the above mentioned scenario, we got angry, which doesn’t support an environment where people share tasks and find good ways to undertake them.)

I would suggest something more along the lines of removing the individual quickly from the space, and then working with them on a better alternative to achieve the result they needed – or getting them thinking about other solutions. 

One good way I’ve seen is for every new task have no more than a five minute stand-up chat across the team and agree on how you are going to do the task safely – which is important, because not everyone reads or responds well to safe operating procedures. However, when it comes down to a small family partnership or traditional old school farming, this is where the ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ concept could possibly help support change. A cartoon, with a catchy tune brought the subject to a wider community in an acceptable way. Needs to be a slow, consistent piece that stays in the mind and acts as a small circuit breaker when someone goes to do something that is a safety short-cut. If you simply hummed the tune when someone was looking to do something impromptu without thought, this may help them stop and think!

"People can be afraid to stop an activity if their boss is involved, or if they feel they'll be reprimanded or lose their job. Conversations over a beer with some practical solutions can help - this shouldn't be a counselling session, but a space where people feel comfortable.”

Is there a time, place or scenario when your partner / workers are more willing to make changes to the way work is done? 

Ha ha – definitely whilst on the toilet!! 

Also just before dinner or the news would be good – they would have to listen before getting to the news or eating their meal.

If you could give any advice to another rural woman about work health and safety in rural industries, about influencing change in business - or just in general - what would it be?

[It’s] hard when so many women’s voices are ignored on farm. I would say in spaces where they don’t feel their voice is being heard, then get the kids involved. Conversations (without challenge) over a beer with some practical solutions to the trending OHS issues on farm in their area can help – this shouldn’t be a counselling session, but rather a space where people feel comfortable. 

Sometimes if you present the group with a challenge to solve – then the solution they feel they own – for example, you could highlight an OHS trend in another region and say ‘How would we fix that here if you were in similar circumstances?’

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No matter what role you play, where you live or what you do, we all have a responsibility to look out for the health, safety and wellbeing of ourselves and those around us.  

30 years ago no-one wore seatbelts. Today we do it without even thinking about it.

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