Call for better health and safety on farms after death

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 10/04/2014
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Do too many farmers and farm workers have a dangerous "she'll be right" attitude towards workplace safety?

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Farming is a hazardous occupation and the number of injuries and deaths on Southland farms must come down, industry insiders say.

They are calling for better health and safety awareness on farms.

The issue has been put in the spotlight by the tragic death of fertiliser truck driver Les Cain, killed when the truck he was driving overturned on a northern Southland farm on Tuesday.

Southland Federated Farmers president Russell MacPherson said one farm death was one too many.

The old attitude of ‘she'll be right' needed to disappear from the industry.

"Just because you do things the way they have been done in the past, doesn't mean it can't be done better."

He stressed that not all deaths on farms were work related.

But farms were dangerous places with multiple hazards, including machinery, animals, climate and terrain.

Even light rain on a hill could transform the terrain into a dangerous place.

People on farms needed to be aware of all risks at all times and understand, isolate and prevent risk, he said.

Farm safety was a team effort between the farm owner and workers.

"We can teach people how to operate machinery properly and ride quad bikes, but in the end it comes down to the choices operators make and good judgement calls."

Federated Farmers had an occupational health and safety policy manual to help farmers put a farm safety policy in place. It costs $70 for members and $300 for non-members.

Under legislation before parliament, directors of companies would be made more accountable for a serious injury or death, which would affect farm enterprises, MacPherson said.

Federated farmers was in favour of a more educative and supportive approach with prosecution being the last resort.

WorkSafe NZ National Programmes manager Francois Barton said agriculture was a hazardous occupation and the rates of injury and death must come down.

Farmers For Farm Safety director D'Arcy Palmer said there had been too many deaths on Southland farms and he called for safer operating practises and a better understanding of health and safety issues.

The former Winton man, who farmed for 38 years, said there was a big deficiency in the quality of safety training on farms.

Many people working on farms learned from doing the tasks and many did not come from a farming background.

The law put the onus on farm owners to ensure safety on the farm, but employees had to ensure their own safety too, he said.

Employers also had duties to protect visitors to their farms from hazards.

It was also the farmer's responsibility to point out hazards in the area where contractors were working and the contracting company had to ensure vehicles complied with safety standards.

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The new proposed legislation was "scaremongering" to make an example of someone because of the high injury and fatality rates on farm, he said.

Invercargill MP Eric Roy, who owns a farm, said accidents happened on farms despite the best intentions around training.

More training and education was needed, but getting the formula right would be difficult.

DairyNZ Southland and Otago regional leader Richard Kyte said more could be done to ensure farmers were aware of the requirements of farm safety plans.

Serious harm injuries and fatalities for workers on Southland farms.

January 1, 2009 - March 14, 2014

Southland Fatalities:

2009 - 0 2010 - 2

2011 - 5 2012 - 0

2013 - 3

2014 until March 14 - 0

Serious harm injuries:

2009 - 24

2010 - 31 2011 - 58

2012 - 56

2013 - 25

2014 until March 14 - 10

Figures for serious harm injuries and fatalities are those notified to the agency and are related to workplace incidents.

-Source: WorkSafe New Zealand.

New act planned

A farmer, family member or child dies every 8.5 days in the New Zealand farm industry.

The Government is working on a new Health and Safety at Work Act, expected to come into force in April next year. The Health and Safety Reform Bill follows recommendations aimed at reducing New Zealand's workplace injury and death toll by 25 per cent by 2020.

Federated Farmers New Zealand says the taskforce report does not present the agricultural industry in a favourable light and has potentially huge ramifications. "

-Sources: Farmers For Farm Safety, The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Federated Farmers. 

- The Southland Times

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