20 Aug 2015

Farmers applaud Govt safety move

5:35 pm on 20 August 2015

Farmers and industry groups are applauding the Government's decision not to categorise most farms as being high risk under the Workplace Health and Safety Bill.

Te Awamutu Saleyards

Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

The Labour Party has labelled the decision a disgrace as a third of workplace fatalities over the past five years occurred within the agriculture sector.

The bill, which is before Parliament, excludes most farms from designating a staff member as a health and safety representative.

Federated Farmers health and safety spokesperson Katie Milne said that made sense as most farm owners were at the coal face beside their staff.

"As business owners we work alongside our workers day by day and are exposed to the same risk," she said.

"We're right beside them communicating. If there is an issue they can tell us on the spot, we're just as at risk as them if we don't fix it.

"It's not like we're in ivory towers away in Dubai, Auckland or Wellington running these businesses, we're there on the farm riding the same quad bikes, we're driving the same tractors, we're handling the same animals, we're exposed to the same risks."

Farmer Mike Bailey

Mike Bailey Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Ms Milne said it was different to other industries, such as running a mine, where the principal was not working alongside the employees.

"I fully understand there's (political) backlash and I can see why but you've probably got to walk a mile in the shoes of a farmer to get it.

"They aren't going to want those guys (their workers) to get hurt just as much as they don't want themselves to get hurt because they are there doing the same job."

Beef and Lamb New Zealand chair James Parsons said most sheep and beef farms simply had too few staff from which to choose a health and safety representative.

"On average you're looking at 1.8 full-time equivalents. While it's a nice idea, some things need to be practical for smaller businesses," he said.

The high number of workplace fatalities in the agricultural sector was a reflection of the size of the industry in this country, Mr Parsons said.

Farmer Geoff Broughton

Geoff Broughton Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

"Half of New Zealand's land area is under pastoral farming. We've got 110,000 people who go to work on farms each day plus families who live there and a lot of visitors who come through as well.

"There will always be accidents, but we're keen to take ownership of improving our safety record on farms. To be quite frank, whether farming is named as a high-risk industry or not I don't think will make a jot of difference in terms of how we embrace the need to improve our safety record."

Beef and Lamb New Zealand was currently piloting health and safety workshops for farmers in the Hawke's Bay, and any MP disappointed with the Workplace Health and Safety Bill should visit farms to see that health and safety was a priority, Mr Parsons said.

Sheep and beef farmer Mike Bailey said everyone needed to be careful "and take it quietly", while dairy farmer Ron Shaw said health and safety was important but could be over the top.

"Sort of got to tell everyone now exactly what to look out for. In the old days you just had to use your common sense didn't you?"

Geoff Broughton, who raises beef cattle at Mystery Creek, said farmers were quite capable of knowing what was safe and what was not.

"And you are going to have an accident whatever, I don't care how many regulations you are always going to have an accident, so you can't regulate for everything."

Farmer George Fleck

George Fleck Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Mr Broughton did not believe requiring a farmer or worker to manage health and safety on every farm just would work.

"I can't see that it could work, (and) who would pay for all this in the long run?"

George Fleck also beats the commonsense drum and is critical of some of the "young ones" working on farms.

"You can't get that through to a lot of the farm-workers, the young ones today, so it seems to be their attitude that it will be ok for me you see."

Sheep farmer Neville Poppe said the onus was on farmers to make sure the work place was as safe as it could be considering the dangers.

"There's more accidents with livestock more than anything else. Not aware of the dangers of all sorts, bulls, cows, horses the whole lot. People seem to have this 'she will be right' attitude."

Lesley Shaw raises calves near Rotorua after getting out of dairying and said it was important people coming into the industry got adequate training about the risks involved.

"There are a lot of things happening at once and you have to keep your wits about yourself or things can go wrong pretty quick and easily. The main thing is the age that is coming into the industry. the young guys tend to be a little bit more reckless. Young and on a bike and out there and he wants to enjoy himself. It is not always about that, you have to keep your wits about yourself."

Mr Shaw said while farmers could take responsibility for health and safety on their own farms, some sort of monitoring regime would be beneficial.

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