Welcome to 1202 - The Human Factors Podcast
Human Factors in Agriculture - An interview with Jill Poots

February 21, 2022

Human Factors in Agriculture - An interview with Jill Poots
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A domain that has always held an attraction is Agriculture, and even more so with the development of technology that is being utilised to enable fewer people on a farm to do a lot more. From GPS enabled tractors to the use of IOT technology to ensure the soil and water have exactly what is needed and when, as well as being able to predict weather windows for fertilising the land and harvesting crops.
But its also a dangerous environment, with heavy machinery that is focused on cutting, mulching, squashing and shredding as well as simple things like pitch forks and animals that can do unpredictable things.

Jill Poots, joined Barry to have a chat and give some insights into Human Factors in Agriculture.

A domain that has always held an attraction is Agriculture, and even more so with the development of technology that is being utilised to enable fewer people on a farm to do a lot more. From GPS enabled tractors to the use of IOT technology to ensure the soil and water have exactly what is needed and when, as well as being able to predict weather windows for fertilising the land and harvesting crops.


But its also a dangerous environment, with heavy machinery that is focused on cutting, mulching, squashing and shredding as well as simple things like pitch forks and animals that can do unpredictable things.


Jill Poots, joined Barry to have a chat and give some insights into Human Factors in Agriculture.

Thank you for listening to 1202 - The Human Factors Podcast.

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And welcome to this episode of 12 are two of the human factors podcast with me, your host, Barry Kirby, a domain that's always held the attraction for me is agriculture. And even more so with the development of technology, that's been utilized to enable few people on a farm to do a lot more from GPS enabled tractors, to the use of IOT technology, to ensure the solar and water of exactly what is needed.
And when. As well as the ability to be able to predict whether a weather windows for fertilizing the land and harvesting crops. And this has been really brought to the fore. Um, most recently with the, uh, with the Amazon series around at lax and farm, more people have got a greater appreciation of really what a difficult job farming is, but it's also a really dangerous environment with heavy machinery that is focused on cutting mulching, squashing, shredding, as well as even simple things like pitchforks and animals that can do really unpredictable things.
Therefore, I was really keen when I read an article in December's ergonomist about investigating non-technical skills in the farming environment, I simply really wanted to know more. So I contacted one of the authors, Joe Poots on Twitter to see if she'd be willing to have a chat. And I'm delighted that she'd been able to join us today to give us some of her insights into human factors in agriculture.
Hi Jaylen. Thank you for being here today. No problem. Thanks for having me. No worries. So before we get stuck into, uh, into the farming piece itself, um, let's find out a bit more about you. So what is it you're doing that? So at the moment, I'm a post-graduate PhD researcher and the psychology applied to safety and health lab at Leeds university.
So I'm not, I'm investigating agriculture at the moment. I'm actually working on a project in tele medicine, specifically telephone triage, and I'm using systems like gang to understand. Um, proposed some interventions and telephone triage work. That's a, that is a bit of a joke from the agriculture. Why, why did you, um, why, why have you gone into that topic to go do further research in?
Um, I think I just, I recognize that there there's still a long way to go with, um, human factors in house care. And specifically I think in primary care and these needed kind of distributed models. Telemedicine you knew where the patient on the professional aren't necessarily geographically co-present.
So I think, um, I was really just interested in, in, you know, paving the way for some of that research. So I specifically wanted to focus on healthcare this time. I also joke that I'm just moving around, you know, like collecting industries. It is a little bit in the oil and gas as well. So just hopping from one thing and do another, um, Going off and around here until the too much.
But, um, no, but I think like there's a lot, one of the things I really like about human factors is how much we can learn from other industries and the collegiality of, uh, so, so I started to saw, um, an entry point for me into human factors, research three house care. That's really interesting. And you are absolutely spot on with that, that the, one of the beauties I think about working in this domain is you can learn one thing in say, oil and gas or nuclear.
And transfer that. And a lot of the processes, uh, are very, you know, even if not exactly the same, but very similar, but you can apply them. And actually the, the general role about what we do about getting stuck into the center of things and making things better is applicable is ubiquitous across all sorts of domains.
Um, so it sounds like you've, you've got, um, your fingers in a number of pies in number of domains. How did you, um, get into human factors in the first place? What, what, what drew you to. Um, so I studied psychology at the university of Aberdeen, so, um, apologies my phone was ringing there. Um, but yeah, I studied, um, psychology and I think like a lot of psychology students, I went into psychology thinking I'm going to be a clinical side.
Um, and I, when I go up there and I got Abra dating at the time, I think they've rebranded it, but they had the industrial psychology research center, um, which investigated human factors, particularly in aviation oil and gas is still do that sort of work up there. And I remember, I think sort of year two or year three, having my.
Um, lecture on human factors. And I think something just really clicked for me to be quite honest. I think maybe it was the sort of the farming background and the real sort of practicality and the application of human factors. Um, but it just remember being in my first lecture and thinking, oh, this is really, really interesting.
Especially even the art. Side of it, the more sort of stuff, um, a bite, you know, work in temperature and extreme environments, not type of thing. I find really, really interesting. So I kind of shifted them a focus, um, towards more human factors research rather than clinical. Okay. Yeah. It seems to be when we talked to a lot of people that you kind of get bitten by the bug, um, you said he, you go through your entire life, not realizing they exist, but as soon as you find out about it, a lot, people really want to dive into it.
So. So have you always been involved in academia then through your, through your career so far that have you had a practical aspect of what what's been the career path? So I, um, I'm a real advocate I have to say for the squiggly career. I don't know if you've heard of that, but Helen Tupper on Sarah Ellis have a book called the squiggly career.
It's worth checking light, but Holly, we're no longer climbing a ladder. We're kind of going backwards and forwards and all different shapes. And I think so far that definitely fits my careers. I started off, as I said, sort of interest in human factors and focus my undergraduate thesis on, um, agriculture, um, which we'll talk a bit more by item.
Sure. Um, from the, uh, it was that sort of research, assistant role that I got it every day. Um, I was successful in getting an internship with Northern gas company, and that was very much focused on sort of the applied work of a human factors professional. So for a lot of that time, I was sort of shadowing and supporting I'm a human factors specialist in that environment.
So that got me exposure to the actual methods that an applied human factor specialist uses. Um, one thing I really liked when I was there was, and we got to develop some human factors. It's trailing. And I got to deliver that to people all over the, the like, um, so I decided at the end of university that I didn't actually knew what exactly I wanted to do, but I knew that I liked that.
So training people and instruction, so actually went into teaching. Um, and I got a role in the graduate scheme. Um, which focuses on education inequality and raising a tan month in England. And I am started teaching science and psychology, and I did that for about four and a half years. So I was always looking to come back to do a PhD, um, when the time was right.
And when I saw a substance, so I was living in Malaysia. And I was keeping an eye out for some human factors, specific PhDs to get back into that and came across this one on here I am. So it was being a bit squiggly, a bit of human factors, a bit of, um, teaching and, and that sort of thing. And the field around them rules thrown in there too.
But, um, but very much me and my way back to my face that I to. That's really cool. Cause it you're right. It's the having the ability to dip into and out of different things. And again, I think it just makes you, um, makes it a lot richer. Doesn't it? I think that the whole idea of just that a to B career, um, a, I just don't think exists anymore that you don't sit in a, in a company or a number of companies now and just go that way.
But also I think it's also part of it. Is it a bit boring to do that as well? You know, it's, it's, you know, you can get a much richer thing just bouncing around from, uh, Place to place. And one of the other things I like about the human factors domain, as well as you can go from company to company and there's no, um, there's no nastiness involved, you know, you're almost expected to go, um, and see different companies and, and take that learning with you.
And, um, it's a really welcoming place to go to different places. So now I'm, but I'm, I'm very jealous of the, uh, some of the experiences you've had there. That, that sounds fantastic. Um, You made it may or may not have noticed we've had this, this, this pandemic of the pastor, uh, past couple of years. How have you found, um, working through that?
Because obviously with some, the stuff you've been doing, has it given you any unique challenges or, uh, or anything like that? A lot of it was just coping with change and she injured overnight. Really? Wasn't it? I mean, I remember I was, I was teaching at the time when we got brought into big room and just basically told, okay, the country's going to lockdown tomorrow.
So we're all online. We've never done it before. We'll figure it out as we go. Um, and that I think, you know, I started my PhD, um, remotely from Malaysia as well before I came home. And that was a challenge as well, this sort of remote working, but also against a time difference of eight hours and, and that type of thing.
So I think one thing that's kind of. Where a lot of people have sort of, you know, either sub or Swami new is, is around the technology and not sort of having to flip between that sort of online, offline. I think that was certainly a challenge for me to kind of dipping in and out of real life, um, teaching or research, and then back behind the screen.
And I know we're kind of not three. Lay yet. Um, but that was one of the most difficult things I think. Um, but also something, you know, to embrace. I mean, I'm, I'm really pleased with the, the amount of technology I've been able to get my head around the news. Well, I think, and I think we're all as researchers trying to understand, you know, how.
Do things remotely and reaching the benefits of that. I mean, obviously you've got things like, um, video conferencing, which can actually do transcriptions and that type of thing. So we're, we're trying to, to use all of these tools to our advantage. I think. Yeah, I think it's, it has been certainly a journey in, in many ways of learning how to do things differently.
And I think now it's going to be that, um, that evolution now is to what does the new normal look like? And I know it's a, probably a cliched phrase at the moment, but it's, um, it's certainly very much trying to understand that balance of yes. Do you want to do something in person, but actually you could do something remotely and actually be more efficient.
And, um, so did, we've had it this week where you've. Do you need to go and travel two hours down the road for a meeting where it would be nice to do it, but actually, do you really need to, and could you, could you get them four hours back, two hours later? I was back, um, and it gives us, gives us new challenges, but, um, anyway, right.
What we'll do is going to take a quick break and then we're going to come back and talk about, um, the main topic around, around farming. So we'll be right.
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And welcome back. And we talked to Joe boots about the application of human factors in farming. So just set the scene a bit for us deal. What, what are the risks in farming? I guess it sounds a bit. W what are we actually talking about? I mean, I think you say it's not as obvious, but I actually find that a lot of people are very unaware of the risks and people are always really surprised when I tell them that agriculture is, is probably the most dangerous or hazardous industry to work in.
So, um, the workplace fatality rate for agriculture is 20 times the oil industry in the UK. Wow. Point five per hundred thousand workers might die at work. So, um, it is really shocking. It certainly shocked me when I first sort of looked at the, the statistics. The main hazard seemed to be M related to slurry, um, livestock machinery, um, I'm working at height.
Um, so that's something that, um, you know, the HSE tell us, but it was also something that we find in, in our least study. And other things that were mentioned were, um, things like children on the farm, for example, um, But me and they, those sort of slurry, um, livestock machinery and, um, slips, trips and falls, which I think, you know, slips, trips and falls are probably a problem in a lot of different industries.
And sues are certainly the main ones. Cause it's interesting, isn't it? Because the whole environment, you, you almost don't think of it in the same way as a normal, uh, normal industry, because so many people, you know, it's, it's, it's literally their livelihoods. They live, breathe, everything on the farm it's the, the, the families are involved.
Um, and so, you know, it's. But it's such a rugged place, you know, you see the farm yard and all that sort of stuff. And there's a lot of make-do and mend as well as everything that goes on. So to see it objectively as an industry, I guess, is, is gotta be, uh, uh, a different challenge in its own. Right. Yeah, I think so.
And I think that that's where it would be. The difficulty comes in. We certainly spoke about this at our Northern Ireland Republic of Ireland, um, working great. Um, sorry, the CIHS, you know, Heidi actually got in touch with farmers because it's not like one big company. It's lots of that. Like you said, family run businesses.
Um, I think something that you know is done well is sort of the advice, the advertise and particularly abroad and, um, Uh, Brian tier in, in Northern Ireland where I'm from, you knew, wait till you have a grave Campion, but you stop and think CF and CF stands for slurry animals, um, tools and equipment. So, um, so I think we have that sort of thing, um, which is, which has done really well.
And we find in our, um, early study that EMDR Arwin and I did that farmers were aware of. So at least, you know, they could tell us what the risks are and, and the risks kind of echoed what was, was being campaigned. So, um, so that sort of thing is, is a good sort of initiative to have. So you're talking about engaging with farmers then is farming, is it an entry that open to human factors, intervention?
Are they actually willing to talk to us and listen to the advice that you give them? Or is it a bit of a clothes shop? How have you found that? I think, um, I think like it, it varies. I think, um, most of SU we, we carried out for our first study. We interviewed 30 farmers in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
And obviously there there's been a lot more research since, but the earliest study, um, which I was directly involved in, um, Everyone's sort of saying very most people seem really open to this idea. I think one of the issues, and one of the things that drew my attention to agriculture was that, you know, in terms of workplace fatalities, if we look at all their industries, it's sort of has fallen a loft in the last say 30 years, agriculture to an extent has fallen, but it's kind of on this sort of.
Like almost a straight line. So, um, so I think, I think people recognize that actually, well, equipment is getting safer. And then one of the things we looked up and was sort of tracked are new, go, go scenarios, new given. So what'd you do this with, if you're tired, for example, what you offered the tractor? I most farmers said, you know, you you'd be mad to not use something like a, a PTU guard that that's from the back of the tractor, so that your arms and things don't get stuck.
Um, you know, um, so most those said that and showed somewhere less. So I think, I think, um, the point I'm getting to is, you know, something else. So we're making equipment that is safer, we're aware of these risks. So that's where I think the human factor in agriculture paper came in on why there was a need for that.
It was to understand new okay. How I can, but what other sort of tweaks on it? That's I think. Oh, well, human factors is, is kind of this sort of a be laying sort of process. Okay. Well, let's, that's, you know, mitigate error by lots of tiny different things and you knew that should improve our outcomes. So see, I think most are open to, um, of course there were, you know, the old vulner too, who were like, I didn't understand what your day in here and I didn't go the teaspoon, but, um, but I think that would be the same in any industry.
I don't think that's farming. Yes, that's definitely everywhere. Um, we're gonna talk a little bit about non-technical skills, um, in farming, but before we get into the, uh, into NTS and farming, could you just give us a quick reminder on what non-technical skills are? Absolutely. So, um, non-technical skills are social and cognitive skills that compliment technical skills.
So examples of these are teamwork, the take and stress management, situational awareness. Um, decision-making later. I would say those are all non technical skills. So how have you applied that in the, or looked at that in the, in the farming domain then? Yeah. So in that first study, we used the critical incident technique, um, by Flanagan to, um, intervene.
We asked them about their, um, sort of incidents that had occurred and also near misses. And we took the transcripts of those and coded them for these non-technical skills too, to understand well are non-technical skills to get used by agriculture F. So what non-technical skills are important in agriculture?
Are there any differences between, you know, the farm demographics, small farms, larger. Team workers, loan workers, for example. Um, so, so we did that in the first study, um, which I was involved with. We left as well as sort of predictors of these non-technical skills. You know, things like attitudes, um, personality traits does that actually affect non-technical skills and agriculture.
And since then, new it's really grown. Um, From that. And Dr. Amy Arwin at the university of Aberdeen has developed a behavioral marker system called Flint's where we can actually measure non-technical skills in agriculture. That's really cool. So. When you were engaging the engagement with the farmers, then how, um, receptive were they to give them you're being, I guess, giving you that honest information that you needed.
Um, I guess the man was re-asking is, I guess you, you see a lot of, um, small business owners and things like that, and generally they will do. Get on and get the job done. And you hit certainly here at farmers working late into the night in the morning, just because the crop needs to be gotten or the animals need to be gathered or whatever it is.
So how, how, how open were they with you, uh, in, in your engagement? Um, so I think, again, speaking like, like we did before the majority were really open and honest, I think what was really interesting was new. The didn't they didn't seem to try to hide anything. I think they all knew it was a dangerous industry, most people, um, and the majority of reported daily, um, if not sort of weekly incidents, you minor injuries.
Sprays is near misses, that type of thing. So you're very open about you knew the, um, the scale of, um, safety and agriculture and the risks that are present. Um, and I think everyone had something new, some new. Or some incident, um, and most equally we're able to give both about, you know, and something that had, that had happened them or directly impacted their, their family or their team.
So, um, so I think they were, they were pretty open and Sharon, um, you know, how they find the job and, and those things that you mentioned did come up as well, like, um, stress and fatigue. I mean, it's a time-pressured road, really. So it's very important to talk about. That's really cool. Yes. Cause the, the, as, as always the better engagement you get, then the better outcomes you can, you can deliver.
So given what you've learnt so far, then in obviously your own experience, where as HR practitioners, can we have the most impact in the farming domain? I think there's still a long way to go with, um, awareness. So I think one of the things that human factors practitioners could contribute to agriculture is just raising awareness of what we do.
Um, I think sort of like the, the elder, the reverse is true as well. I think agriculture, you know, could, could also, um, lend itself to. Yeah, educate and the rest of the nation. What's what you know, they do explicitly. So that's very things like Clarkson's farm that you mentioned her. It's really important.
You, at reason awareness of the risks and unknowns the diversity of the road in terms of tasks and, and jobs and things. I mean, a lot of farmers sort of double off those builders and engineers and reefers and everything. So it is a difficult job. Um, I think probably with human factors, practitioners, um, certainly reasoning, a lot more awareness of all just sort of like these non-technical skills, for example, or.
Investigating the usability of equipment. I don't know that there's very much not human error assessments, that type of thing hasn't really gone on. Um, as far as I'm aware. So I think there's a lot of room for human factors to have an input into, um, That sounds really inspiring a, a fertile domain, if you will.
Um, sorry. I'll I'll, I'll get to that. Um, you, you alluded to it earlier. Why, why the interest in agriculture? Why, what, what, what's your background that got in it that made you want to do one to a study? This, yeah, so, um, well I'm, I grew up on a farm. Um, I I'm a farmer's daughter and if. Just go off that's because the milking machine has just started light side.
So yeah, I guess, I suppose I'm sort of dropping my extended family on it. Um, I suppose I'm just well used to what the hazards are, you know? I mean, I just, I remember I was talking or their own a how you knew and a human factors lecture. You knew something just clicked. I'm when it came to thinking about my own thesis, I was like, well, you know, agriculture is a hazardous industry.
Um, so there must be lots of human factors research now, agriculture. Do that. And then I went and had a look at the literature. Um, you know, obviously, um, there wasn't very much so, so I think that was kind of really well, um, made me want to get into it. Um, you know, my own sort of area has been effected by.
Agricultural fatalities. Um, for example, the rugby player Nevins fence, and, um, his family knew were, were killed in a tragic slurry accident around the time that I was sort of choosing the direction for my thesis. So it was very much in everybody's hearts and minds about the dangers of agriculture, at least in this area.
So that was one of the main drivers for it as well. I was also really involved in young farmers. Both in Ulster, I'm in Scotland. Um, so I was really passionate about the industry. I mean, I still, I still am not working on the industry and anymore, but, um, I just, I was really involved at the time and I just, I couldn't believe it when, you know, I just felt like no, one's paying attention to this.
And I wanted to, you know, make people pay attention. Yeah. Yeah, no. And you can, it's always that, um, that personal experience, which if you can get that behind, you can really drive you through, um, through the type of research and give you a real passion for it. So you've even the, um, in the look at the, the medical domain at the moment, do you think you, there is some more, uh, human factors in agriculture research locally in there somewhere?
Or what does the future hold in that area for you to do for you? Do you think specifically. Yeah. I mean, I absolutely love, um, being able to talk about that. Those are the research studies and kind of reviving a little bit because obviously when I was teaching and kind of wasn't involved directly in human factors that sort of fell off the radar.
Amazing to connect with, you know, the chartered Institute and be able to share this research and reconnect with EME Arwin and, um, Linka, Roxanne, Butone, who are involved in this research still and, and find out about what they're doing. Um, I think. I don't know. I, it's very hard question to answer. You've put me on the spot there.
Um, I mean, I would never say, never buy, go back into agriculture it's so it's still a, an industry I'm really passionate about. Um, and I think there there's so much more to be done as a mention in terms of things like. The specific, um, investigations, human error, assessments, usability, all of these things I've mentioned and her really, really important.
And I think there's, there's a whole other, you know, um, area of agriculture that psychology could feed into. You know, there's obviously like an issue with rural mental health. So at the end of, I'm really passionate about that. So I guess I'll just, I'll see how I get on. And, um, I'll get back to you in a year or two by, and that you knew where.
That's cool. I, that that'd be really good. Fun to check in and see and see where the squiggly lines gone now. Um, so just to sort of wrap up then what do you, um, I want to be asking these questions to all the, uh, every everyone I interview. So we, it's a really clever feature called the final three because it's the final three questions.
Um, what is your go-to book or paper or reference, and it can be technical or it could be fiction book and that you keep on going back. Um, so I'd have to say it's the safety at the sharp end book by professor Ruina, Slaton and her colleagues. Um, I know I'm really plugging Aberdeen here. I'm not meant like I'm not intending to, but even though my research at the moment, isn't specifically focused on non-technical shells.
I still go back to that handbook to look at the sort of methodologies and for my own research. So that's my go-to.
And give yourself some advice. What would you, what advice would you give to, um, your, the younger gel? I think it would be like my squiggly career. And I think that's something I sort of, um, would go back and tell any undergraduate, like it will be okay. You'll, you'll end up where you're supposed to end up on.
You'll collect lots of great skills, um, along the way. Um, so that's one thing I would probably go back and say, I do worry. You're fine. You're on the right path. Even if it doesn't say like it. Yes. Trust yourself. I guess there is the underpinning thing there isn't there. Um, So finally, who would you make?
Because this makes my life a lot easier. Um, who would you suggest we interview next year? Would people, who would you like to hear? I think I'd really like to hear, um, Amy Irin and, um, Lanka Ruxandra tone. I think it'd be really nice to hear about how they've really driven this research forward and what they're up to now.
Um, so that would be, that'd be really good. Brilliant. I'll, um, I'll try and get into it with them and sit and see what we can sort out. So thank you, Jill really, really appreciate your time. Um, how can people get in touch with you if they want to know more about what you're doing and what your squiggly careers up to?
Absolutely. So I'm on Twitter, so I'm J. CPU T S Y on Twitter or LinkedIn, you can find me. I didn't think there are many jail pizzas in the world that should be okay. And, uh, all of Jill's details will be on her guest profile. When this episode is up on the website. Just to finish off. Then we just let everybody know that we are going to be at the ergonomics conference.
The ergonomics human factors conference is going to be in Birmingham. Um, and for the live element, um, on the 25th and 26th of April, where hopefully we'll be sitting down to interview some of the guest speakers, uh, as well as getting reactions and insights from some of the attendees. Um, I'm kind of hoping that I'll be taking the microphone into the bar and seeing what happens.
We'll see if I can get away with it. Um, so if you're going then do drop into our studio, apparently we're gonna to have a space and everything, and we might have some, I don't know, like roller banners and who knows what it might even look vaguely efficient. So D do drop in and say, hi, um, if you're not going then keep an eye on the social links, uh, to get our latest content.
Cause we will be pushing out a load of stuff there, but for now, thank you very much for your time, Joe really, really appreciate it. And I will see and hear everybody on the next step.
Thank you.

Jill PootsProfile Photo

Jill Poots

Postgraduate Researcher

Jill became interested in Human Factors during her undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Aberdeen. Supervised by Dr Amy Irwin, she investigated safety culture and non-technical skills in agriculture workers for her undergraduate thesis. She remains an associate member of the University of Aberdeen's Applied Psychology and Human Factors group. She is currently pursuing a PhD in the Psychology Applied to Safety and Health Lab at Leeds Beckett University investigating Human Factors in telemedicine.