(Tetum) As an Australian Aid co-funded project, MAF-SoL ranks work health and safety (WHS) as a top priority.

The program proactively develops strategies to eliminate and manage risks to staff, program recipients and the greater Timorese community, and aims to work toward an Australian standard of risk reduction.

As MAF-SoL is a national program working in all 13 districts, staff travel is an intrinsic part of day-to-day work life for many employees. Competent, experienced and educated driving staff is the most prominent way to reduce on-road risks.

During two 2-day training sessions (23 – 27 June) 24 MAF-SoL drivers and 2 logistics staff undertook a 4X4 off-road driving course in Comoro and Tasi Tolu conducted by APAC Assistance.

SoL drivers are happy after completing driving training in Tibar. © Paulino Mendonca/Seeds of Life.

Logistics Manager Paulino Mendonca said the upskilling course strengthened drivers’ off-road skills, particularly in four-wheel drive, and covered several key safety areas.

“Topics included vehicle maintenance, hazard recognition, emergency stopping, vehicle recovery, inclines and declines and emergency response.

“The training is important because our drivers are constantly travelling on rural roads and village tracks, be it to deliver seed to farmers or to drive technical staff to rural villages. They need to do so in the safest way possible,” he said.

“Although I’ve been a driver for multiple years, I learned new skills such as how to safely come to a stop when you get a flat tyre while driving”

Video: see how the Seeds of Life drivers put their skills to use in the driving training

The training enhanced drivers’ knowledge of how to handle vehicles in rural areas and to prevent damage to their vehicles, injury to passengers or to pedestrians.

“We practiced driving at a high speed then stopping suddenly to identify the necessary stopping distance, and practiced how to pass such hazards as rivers, mud, rocks and steep climbs,” Paulino said.

“The course reminded us to remain calm, be observant and plan ahead in order to avoid accidents or to find clear and successful solutions to problems such as being stuck in a bog,” he said.

Kondutor sira uja nia hanoin hodi hasai kareta husi tahu laran

Drivers use their knowledge to pull a car from the mud. © Paulino Mendonca/Seeds of Life.

Jaime Verdial (33), a driver with Seeds of Life for three years, found the course very useful.

“Although I’ve been a driver for multiple years, I learned new skills such as how to safely come to a stop when you get a flat tyre while driving,” he said.

Driver Marcelino Lemos da Costa (48) said he “learned new skills including the push and pull steering technique, which helps drivers improve control of a car and provides better grip”.

As part of its commitment to workplace health and safety, MAF-SoL has also sent 41 staff members (8 women, 31 men) to First Aid training over the last year and provided motorcycle training to all researchers. In the coming months, a number of staff will be attending WHS training in Dili to learn about identifying and managing risks in the workplace.