Quad bike helmet fine 'unjustifiable'
A Rai Valley dairy farmer says a $15,000 fine handed out to a Marlborough farmhand for not wearing a helmet while riding a quad bike is "absolutely bloody ridiculous".
Kerry Robbins said he felt sorry for Rangi Holmes, who had been punished for doing something all farmworkers were guilty of at some point.
While it was irresponsible to have a child on a quad bike without a helmet, the $15,000 fine was unjustifiable, Robbins said.
Holmes was sentenced at the Nelson District Court this week on two charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure his own safety and that of his passenger.
Workplace New Zealand inspectors saw on five occasions Holmes riding a quad bike while carrying a child under 10 without a helmet on the farm where he works in the Rai Valley.
"I think they are making an example of him and he'll learn the hard way, but it's just beyond belief, actually, it's a joke, a total joke," Robbins said.
WorkSafe New Zealand inspectors had been visiting farms in the area more often, making farmers uneasy about being seen to be doing the right thing, he said.
"You feel a bit like Big Brother is watching you, they sit out on the road there, you're too scared to fart in case someone hears you."
Robbins himself had a medical dispensation for not wearing a helmet because they caused him headaches, but other farmers had been taking steps to appear compliant, he said.
"A lot of it is just cosmetic, they put their helmets on because they are being spied on from the road and then they get over the back and take it off again."
Another dairy farmer from the area said he had also been spoken to by WorkSafe inspectors about wearing a helmet while on his quad bike.
"A lot of farmers in the valley have got a lot of negative feedback towards them, especially coming on to your farm, it's sort of like coming into your office, isn't it, and saying ‘Oh your pencil's not straight'."
Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said that, despite an unprecedented fine, the sentence indicated that WorkSafe was "prepared to use its regulatory stick".
"Worksafe NZ is sending a clear message to all quad bike users that it has the regulatory muscle and is now prepared to deploy it," he said.
"Whatever you may think about a helmet the law is the law.
"If you flout it you risk significant penalties, as this case shows."
On average five people are killed each year in quad bike accidents and another 850 are injured.
WorkSafe New Zealand national programmes manager Francois Barton said an assessment team had visited Nelson farms yesterday checking quad bike compliance, and had been met largely by positive reactions to the sentence.
Farmers throughout the country should expect to be visited by inspectors from time to time as part of their national harm reduction programme for quad bike safety, he said.
QUAD BIKE SAFETY
WorkSafe New Zealand guidelines for quad bike safety. 1. Ensure riders are trained and experienced enough to do the job at hand. 2. Ensure workers are using the right vehicle for the job. 3. Ensure riders are wearing a helmet at all times. 4. Ensure children do not ride adult quad bikes.
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The Marlborough Express