The head of the government health and safety taskforce has rejected Federated Farmers' response to his comments about farm safety as jarring.
Last month Rob Jager, who chairs the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety, told the Taranaki Daily News New Zealand's agricultural fatality rate of more than one a month last year was abysmal.
The chairman of Shell New Zealand and general manager of New Plymouth-based Shell Todd Oil Services said farmers did not seem to appreciate the effect on their business or their families of a serious farm accident.
Federated Farmers Southland president Russell MacPherson has described Jager's comments as jarring.
"I know our accident rates are high and need to come down, but they are," he said.
"In 2009, ACC claim statistics per 1000 fulltime equivalent workers stood at 250, but by 2011 these had fallen to 211; a fall of 15.6 per cent.
"Farming is an extreme occupation.
"When a storm approaches, we put on our wet weather gear and head out into it to check on our animals and equipment. For many that involves a quad bike."
MacPherson said the death toll of motorcyclists on the road far outstripped on- farm deaths on quad bikes.
But Jager said the point he was making was that the inherent danger of the environment where farmers worked was borne out - regrettably - by statistics. Fifteen farmers died at work in 2011.
MacPherson's reaction showed that often farmers did not recognise the risks of farming.
"It seems some folk think because the nature of their business is inherently dangerous that we shouldn't be too harsh on them.
"Farmers, generally, are not dealing with those inherent risks the way they ought to.
"Farming is an area that statistically is not doing as well as it should - but it's not alone," he said.
"I'm not picking on farmers - but the impact on a farmer and on his business is huge."
Statistically, the manufacturing, fishing, construction and forestry sectors were, like farming, high-risk industries.
"Statistically, farmers - tragically - are getting killed.
"They don't look at the work that they do as being potentially dangerous to the extent they should.
"Is that good enough? I don't think it is."
Jager said an injury to a farmer had an immediate and significant impact on his family and on his ability to run his farm.
Federated Farmers and the Department of Labour, now part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had put in a lot of effort to improve safety awareness among farmers and to promote training for quad bike riding.
New Zealand's workplace safety record was seven times as bad as the United Kingdom and twice as bad as Australia.
"We're not doing it right and the cost is huge, although there are many examples of people doing a fantastic job at identifying, recognising and managing dangerous circumstances - just as there are many who still don't do enough.
"We need to step up, as a country and as a society to say that [workplace injuries and fatalities] are a price we're not willing to pay.
"Collectively, it's not good enough. Is it because of our tolerance that we accept it? Or perhaps a lack of awareness? Why do we find it acceptable?
"The cost, in human terms, is indescribable, but in dollar terms it's 3.5 per cent of GDP."
The annual cost to the nation of work-related injury was $3.5 billion. Each year 100 people died in workplace accidents, 700 died of work- related diseases and many were exposed to hazardous substances of which the health impacts were not understood.
Jager said 23,000 people were injured seriously enough to need a week off work and 370 required hospital treatment.
"These are staggering numbers. Farming is just one of the worst-performing sectors.
"Any fatality or any injury is unacceptable."
In April the taskforce will recommend to the Government a package of measures to reduce the rate of fatalities and serious injuries in workplaces by at least 25 per cent by 2020.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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