5 May 2015

New quad bike rules 'heavy-handed'

2:19 pm on 5 May 2015

Farmers are increasingly frustrated and fearful over upcoming changes to health and safety legislation around quad bikes, a farming industry leader says.

Later this year, changes to the Health and Safety Act will result in tougher penalties for non-compliance, including higher fines for people riding quad bikes with passengers.

Beef and Lamb New Zealand chairman James Parsons said farmers in the meat and wool industry were concerned.

Farms were workplaces as well as homes, and new harsher penalties for having passengers on quad bikes would change things dramatically for families; what was needed was a code of compliance for for quad bikes rather than "draconian" new rules, he said.

"A mother who might just go along a formed track, just to take some smoko out to the back yards to where her husband and some of the staff may be, (and who) might have a three-year-old child with them would now be a criminal for doing that.

"So consequently they get stuck in the house and can't get out and about.

"You might have unskilled operators now having to ride a quad bike because they can't go as a passenger alongside a skilled operator and that, in turn, creates more risk.

"So I think it's important that there's a common-sense approach to how quad bike safety is managed, and this interpretation around one rider per quad bike in many cases creates more risk than less."

National MP Chester Borrows raised similar concerns from farmers in his Whanganui electorate at a recent Parliamentary select committee, calling health and safety officials "d***heads". He had since retracted his choice of words but said the message beneath the language remained.

"I shouldn't have used the language I used and I guess I was just a bit tired and scratchy on that particular day but I don't retract the sense of fear that's out there and the fact that some enforcement is overzealous."

Mr Borrows said the quad bike debate was part of a much bigger problem which needed to be addressed.

"What I do find is that there is a lot of enforcement and threats of enforcement around some quite benign or common practices, where you'd tend think there should be a little more lee-way in terms of issuing a cautionary word as opposed to an infringement notice or a prosecution."

Mr Burrows said he disagreed with Mr Parsons about it being safe to have more than one rider on a quad bike, saying quad bike manufacturers specified it should be one rider per quad bike.

However, Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said farmers were doing nothing to address the increasing number of deaths caused by quad bikes.

She said farming leaders needed to step up and stop resisting the new laws.

"The accident rate is increasing and a half of New Zealand workplace deaths occur in agriculture and the leadership group - Federated Farmers and Beef and Lamb - do nothing except criticise and resist and changes," Ms Kelly said.