Are we too tangled up in red tape?

Is the health and safety bureaucracy going a bit too far, asks Marc Gascoigne.

This sign on Marc Gascoigne's gate doesn't seem to be keeping out the salespeople.

This sign on Marc Gascoigne's gate doesn't seem to be keeping out the salespeople.

OPINION: I'm lucky I've survived till I'm 50.

When I was a kid we travelled in cars with no rear seatbelts, no airbags, and I still remember "driving" home sitting on Dad's lap doing the steering while he worked the pedals.

We had a three-wheeler motorbike that any slight turn would tip over.  As kids we were riding motorbikes before we could reach the pedals and never had a helmet.

I also remember having a constantly peeling nose from sunburn and getting crunched by some big kids playing bullrush at school.

We're a lot more safety conscious now and that's got to be a good thing.

After 20 years farming without a motorbike helmet I now put it on as automatically as my boots.

Too many people are injured or killed at work and we need to do something about it.

But I'm wondering whether things have got just a little bit out of kilter.

A couple of months ago I attended a plant opening at Fonterra's Hautapu site. We had to walk a short distance to get to where we would start a tour, so we were issued hard cap boots, safety glasses and a high-vis vest.

I nervously looked around wondering where the flying fragments that would hit my eyes would come from, and where the heavy items that would topple over and squash my toes were?

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We had to be escorted and were told not to deviate from the yellow line painted on the ground. It felt a bit like we were naughty five-year-olds on a school trip and I was half expecting to be told to walk two-by-two and hold hands. Thankfully I survived to tell the tale.

I have a friend who works in the mental health area and does home appointments where she goes into clients' homes by herself.

As part of her training she had to do a course in self defense to protect herself if  anyone attacked her.

Fair enough, that's a good idea. But get this: She was taught how to defend herself but the emphasis was on not causing any harm to the attacker. 

Hang on a minute. Someone is attacking her and she's got to defend herself without causing any harm? Yeah right!

I told her that if someone is attacking her, kick him in the nuts, scratch his eyes out and cause as much pain as possible. Worry about the consequences afterwards. At least she will have more chance of being alive to fill out the "incident" report.           

I was driving through Hamilton on a hot summer's day and had to slow down for what I thought must be major road works. Not one, not two, but three big trucks with flashing lights and massive flashing arrows directing traffic to one side.  Crikey, this must be serious.

When I got to the workers it was one guy on a traffic island with a hedge trimmer and another guy with a rake. Some seriously expensive gardening for the ratepayers of Hamilton.

And I felt sorry for the gardeners on a stinker of a hot day, fully decked out in safety gear with long sleeves and long pants, because any exposure to the sun is of course a hazard to be eliminated.

So it's not just farming that has been a bit over-run with health and safety PC bureaucracy.

Personally, I can't see a problem taking the farm consultant as a passenger on the quad-bike, on flat ground at slow speed. The rules would say otherwise.

Much of the focus and liability for health and safety these days seems to be on the employer.

There is a danger of removing the need for common sense and personal responsibility when it is expected that the boss will make the workplace safe and point out every conceivable hazard.

If an employee falls off a faulty ladder at work, the employer is liable for prosecution and heavily fined. If a person falls off a faulty ladder at home, it's an accident and all the costs are covered, no questions asked.

Surely, in both cases the person needs to check that the ladder is safe before climbing onto it.

It's great that there is far more awareness of risks and safety now than there was when I started farming.

Just as long as we keep it in perspective and keep encouraging everyone to think for themselves and also take responsibility for everyone else on the team.

I'm not sure whether the sign we have at the farm entrance is working. We seem to still be getting just as many salespeople coming up the driveway. But also I'm getting far less visits from family since I put it up, so maybe it is. (Only joking Mum).



It's been a tough old 12 months down on the farm in the Waikato.

Financially it hasn't been flash and Murphy has a way of putting the boot in when you're down. 

It's been quite a job just keeping our livestock with four legs pointing towards the ground this season with the worst summer of facial eczema for as long as anyone can remember and then to top it off there has been some nasty bouts of nitrate poisoning.

A few years ago we were hit with nitrate poisoning on our farm and lost six cows. It is a hideous experience and one I wouldn't wish on anyone.

So I can't imagine how terrible it was recently for a young sharemilking couple in our district who lost many more cows in one day. Devastating.

But it was great to see farmers and the community in our area rally around and set about helping this young couple out.

A scheme was set up and co-ordinated by Fonterra area manager Rosalie Piggott and Farm Source stock agent Kelly Higgins so that farmers could donate a cow.

There were 43 cows donated from near and far, many of them from farmers who didn't even know the couple. 

A Givealittle page was also set up and well supported by the wider community.  The cows were picked up and carted at no charge by Road Haulage Te Awamutu and Farmer's Transport Putaruru.

Times are tough for everyone in the industry at the moment, but it was great to see the farming and wider community come together to help each other out.

There was a BBQ lunch put on at our local Farm Source store to say thank you to all involved.

Of course, the couple wanted to say a few words. It was easy to hear the raw emotion in the young lady's voice, not only from the awful experience they had been through, but also from how thankful they were to have had such great support from so many people, many being complete strangers.

To see how much it meant to them was thanks enough for everyone that donated.

It's good to see the co-operative spirit alive and well. Long may it continue.

Thanks to everyone involved in some way, you're all good buggers. Keep paying it forward. And all the best to the couple involved. Put last season behind you and keep mooving on up!

Marc Gascoigne is a Cambridge dairy farmer and welcomes feedback at

 - Stuff


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