Editorial: Safe in an unforgiving place

22:48, Apr 10 2014

Editorial: Our farms are valuable but our farmers, and their families, are invaluable.

The numbers being hurt and killed on the land nationwide cannot merely be treated as cause for lamentation and scolding.

It must be motivation for practical and achievable safety improvements.

The question then becomes the extent to which we can legislate our way out of the problem, via the likes of the Government's Health and Safety at Work Act, parts of which are, for motivational purposes, targeting penalties in cases of injuries and death at business directors and owners.

Okay, sorting out accountability, where appropriate, is one thing.

But the potential benefits should not be overestimated to the point of regarding the changes expected to come into force in April next year as somehow sufficient.


Legislation such as this is, at best, something to take a place as part of the larger, more ardent, and dare we say more practical social agenda to develop a functional improvement in farm safety.

The traditional view has been that farmers do prefer to sort out their own problems, and that given half a chance they're capable of doing that.

Part of the trouble with fully embracing that nostalgic view, however, is the ring of truth to Farmers For Farm Safety director D'Arcy Palmer's description of changing times. Many people on farms now do not come from farming backgrounds and now find themselves learning doing the tasks.

Problem being that bitter experience can be a truly brutal teacher. And an entirely inadequate one. We're hardly likely to learn much from our own fatal mistakes.

Come to that, we don't seem to be doing an especially good job of learning off other people's either.

The extent to which each farm worker will understand and consistently apply health and safety procedures will depend less on the punishments that might potentially descend on their boss than on how vividly the workers can be encouraged to appreciate, vividly, the extent to which their own wellbeing, and that of the people around them, can be imperilled.

Education and training, then. Not approached with a dutiful plod, but with a clear sense of the stakes. Achieve that and motivation becomes much less of a problem.

There's now an official nationwide agenda to reduce New Zealand's entire workplace injury and death toll by 25 per cent by 2020.

Southland Federated Farmers president Russell MacPherson is quite right when he stresses that not all deaths on farms are work-related.

Three of the four most recent deaths on Southland farms, reaching back just to last December, were of young children drowned or killed on quad bikes.

But going back to 2009, 13 of the 18 deaths were of farmers going about their work.

Those occupational health and safety policy manuals that the Feds have on offer to help farmers put decent safety policies in place, wouldn't be a bad little investment, in these increasingly fraught circumstances.


The Southland Times