Teuila Fuatai

Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Farm workers silent on safety

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Western Bay agricultural workers are too scared to voice concerns about poor health and safety practices, making many farms unsafe, the Council of Trade Unions warns.

A Federated Farmers spokesman admits there is a risk some Bay workers are under pressure to perform tasks in a hurry or without "adequate training".

Figures released to the Bay of Plenty Times from the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry show Bay agricultural workers suffered nearly 100 serious workplace accidents in the past five years, of which four were fatal.

Nationally, more than 1760 serious agricultural accidents occurred since 2008 - 75 resulting in death. The sector has one of the highest accident rates in New Zealand.

CTU president Helen Kelly said farm owners made too many excuses when it came to employee health and safety.

"They want to talk about training and they want to talk about culture and they want to talk about drugs.

"But nobody wants to really investigate what are the working conditions of these workers and do they have a voice."

Ms Kelly said the accident rate would not change until workers were given proper support and felt comfortable raising concerns about unsafe working conditions.

Earlier this year 6-year-old Raymond Kapene was injured on his family's Manoeka Rd property when he fell off his grandfather's 4WD, which was towing a trailer. In April last year, a 15-year-old male fruit picker suffered serious injuries when a tractor ran over him on a Paengaroa orchard.

Bay of Plenty Federated Farmers provincial president John Scrimgeour said inexperienced workers on orchards could be at higher risk of accidents because they often worked around machinery.

Mr Scrimgeour admitted some "employers could pressure staff to do things either in a hurry or when they haven't had adequate training" but hoped it was less common than a generation ago. Federated Farmers health and safety spokeswoman Jeanette Maxwell said many farmers were doing their best in difficult financial times.

Some farmers were not employing workers to save costs. But reduced staff numbers often contributed to "three-thirtyitis" mistakes, Mrs Maxwell said.

Ona de Rooy, Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry general manager health and safety operations, said nearly 60 per cent of fatal agriculture accidents since 2008 involved farm vehicles.

Ms de Rooy said an increase in the number of reported serious and fatal agriculture sector injuries in the last two years, from 336 in 2011 to 420 last year, was likely due to better awareness of health and safety.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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