Born and raised on a sheep and beef farm in the Wairarapa, Nicky Barton knows it’s not just those who pick up a hand piece or wear gumboots every day that are making a difference in the rural sector. A firm believer that public relations and education play a vital role in the primary sector’s capability and reputation, Nicky is now a Media Manager for WorkSafe New Zealand. Also a former participant in the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme, Nicky conducted research on age and the influence it has on health and safety in the primary sector. Most at home when cooking in her parents’ kitchen, ‘rural at heart’ Nicky also enjoys heading home for a day’s work in the woolshed or the even in the yards. With a passion for instigating change and wanting to create positive interactions between WorkSafe and farmers, Nicky’s proudest work achievement is establishing a formal sponsorship between WorkSafe New Zealand and the prestigious FMG Young Farmer of the Year contest.

When asked what concerned Nicky about the health and safety of those in rural industries and communities, she detailed the worries she has upon seeing children on the farm, particularly while operating adult-sized quad bikes and tractors. Acknowledging how unique agriculture is in the fact that children are permitted to go to work with their parents, she urges parents to become better at assessing the risks associated with jobs they involve their children in. While she had previously thought that quad bikes had been ‘unfairly vilified’, she has since discovered through her research that they are the leading cause of on-farm death for those under 20, reinforcing that its not the fall from a quad bike or even a crush injury from being run over that is fatal – but being crushed underneath the vehicle itself. Upon discussing crush protection, Nicky referred to it as a simple solution, but a life-saving one that would help prevent many unnecessary deaths across the country. With a New Zealand ACC subsidy available for crush protection, she recommends installing crush protection for your loved ones to keep them safe, with the added advantage of being able to claim it as a business expense.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Friendly, loyal and involved.

Tell us something interesting about yourself...

I am Nicky Barton, a 30 year old Media Manager at WorkSafe New Zealand, an average but enthusiastic sportswoman, a capable cook and most certainly, rural at heart. I grew up on a sheep and beef farm in the Wairarapa. My parents were both active on farm and both had interests in agriculture off the farm as well. I have an enormous appreciation for the luxury that was growing up in rural New Zealand, it’s here that I developed my sound work ethic, my love of the countryside, my capability in the kitchen and my care for the people that put food on our tables.

What's one achievement you're most proud of?

My proudest achievement is completing the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme in 2019 (Cohort 40) and presenting my research, ‘Old Dogs, New Tricks: An exploration of age and its influence on health and safety in New Zealand’s primary sector’.

What makes you truly happy?

Cooking in my Mum and Dad’s country kitchen for the people that I adore.

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

The people I get to meet, both here in New Zealand and in other parts of the world.

Tell us about a time when you felt worried about your own or someone else’s health or safety.

I worry a lot about kids involved in on-farm work and other activities. It is such a special place to grow up, but I can’t see a worse set of circumstances as a parent in knowing you might have contributed to your child’s death. Often I see kids driving adult-sized quad bikes when I am out driving and this really makes me worry. I used to think the infamous quad bike had been unfairly vilified, however during my Kellogg study I found that this was not the case and that they are the leading contributor to on-farm deaths – including those under the age of 20. Farming is really the only occupation that you can take your child to work. In no other sector of work (forestry, construction or manufacturing) would this practice be considered acceptable. In fact, we would be aghast at the thought of a small child in a factory – yet for some reason think it is acceptable for them to be interacting with tractors on farm. Parents need to be better at assessing the risks associated with the jobs they involved their kids in on farm.

What practical things did - or could - you or someone else do to prevent yourself or someone else from getting hurt?

I think all farmers should be looking to install crush protection on their quad bikes. Even the best riders make mistakes and find themselves in compromising positions. The crush protection provides a safe space when things do go wrong. I get to read first-hand how people have died and it’s not the fall from the bike, or even a crush injury from being run over by the out of control vehicle, it is from being crushed underneath it. The only way to avoid this is to install crush protection.

The same goes with safety belts, very few people manage to jump free from their vehicle when it is out of control. In some cases I’ve read, the person who jumped free has been killed while the person who stayed inside the vehicle has survived. If your vehicle is fitted with a safety belt then you should be using it.

"Buy your loved ones crush protection for their quad bikes! There is an ACC subsidy available, and you can claim it as a business expense."

Is there a time, place or scenario when your partner or those you work or spend time with are more willing to make changes to the way the work is done, or are more open to making safer, healthier choices?

When something has just gone wrong, but this is not necessarily a permanent change. When we hear of someone we know being killed in a car accident or a quad bike crash, we pick up our socks and do the right thing. But slowly, we slip back into old habits – glancing at a cell phone or taking the less safe shortcut.

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

Buy your loved ones crush protection for their quad bikes! There is an ACC subsidy available and you can claim it as a business expense. It is such a simple step and would help prevent so many unnecessary deaths.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Some of my favourite rural achievements at work include establishing a formal sponsorship relationship between WorkSafe and the Young Farmer of the Year competition. I felt this was a space where we could really instigate change and create positive interactions with farmers. I also worked closely with Cantabrian author Harriet Bremner who lost her partner in a rural workplace accident, to write and promote a children’s story book for farm kids – to help get them think about staying safe on farm. I also loved working with Mairi Whittle to share her approach to health and safety, in a way that was very user friendly for farmers watching on. I look forward to creating many more of these opportunities in the future as well.

I am still comfortable heading home for a day in the woolshed or working in the yards but I strongly believe there is an important role for urban-based rural advocates to play. When I was involved in Young Farmers, I was often asked why on earth there was a Wellington Young Farmers Club – it didn’t make sense to many, as of course we didn’t have any ‘farmers’. I took great delight in relaying to them our membership’s job descriptions and that just because we weren’t in gumboots, did not discredit the part we had to play in improving the performance and reputation of the rural sector. 

I don’t wear gumboots every day and I am no good on a handpiece, but I do believe that public relations and education has a vital role to play in building and maintaining New Zealand’s primary sector capability and reputation both here and abroad. I want to be a part of making this happen, especially when it comes to keeping people safe on farm.

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