The old drink-drive slogan 'rural people die on rural roads' is unfortunately all too true, as highlighted in the Coroner's recent inquest findings into the death of 17-year-old Southland shearer Troy Adamson.
Rural drink-driving is also being looked at by a number of agencies and organisations, including Federated Farmers.
Recently, the New Zealand Shearing Industry Health and Safety Committee, the NZ Shearing Contractors Association, police, ACC and the Department of Labour met to discuss this issue. They are working together within rural communities to find ways to help prevent further accidents.
The Shearing Health and Safety Committee last month released guidelines around on-farm host responsibility, which can be found on its website at www.shearsmart.co.nz. Federated Farmers supports this effort and encourages all farmers to have a look.
Shearing Health and Safety Committee member Peter Taylor says in many areas there is an entrenched culture of the shed shout for shearers after they have finished their contract, which comes back to the 'work hard, play hard' ethos prevalent in many rural communities.
However, while providing a few beers as an extra thank-you for a job well done is a nice idea, it should be remembered these men and women will not be able to catch a bus back to their accommodation or homes.
For shearers and other farm workers, the combination of early starts, icy roads during the cold season and fatigue after long, hard days with travelling long distances on rough or unsealed roads is already a hazardous one. The addition of alcohol, especially in excess, can have lethal consequences.
On my own farm it has been a number of years since we held any shed shouts, in preference for allowing people to go home early. People always appreciate more time with their families or friends and I have not yet had any complaints.
Following Mr Adamson's inquest, the Coroner has recommended the shearing industry take a more active 'host responsibility' role if a shed shout is held. Mr Taylor says shearing industry leaders is already acknowledging there is a problem and encourages shearing employers to improve the way they manage their staff on the roads.
Some shearing contractors make sure they provide good vehicles which meet legal requirements, have driving policies in place and ensure drivers are experienced and correctly licensed. Some even provide driver training, while a few have introduced breathalyser testing.
There are, however, many others without these systems in place.
ShearNZ last month released these guidelines around keeping shearers and wool-handlers safe on the roads:
Make sure clear policies on vehicles, drivers, alcohol and host responsibility are set up and working
Adopt a zero-tolerance to drivers having any alcohol on or after the job
If farmers want to show appreciation for good work provide non-alcoholic drinks and food
Get a copy of the new Best Practice Guideline for Travel in the New Zealand Wool Harvesting Industry and use it.
This issue affects more than just the shearing industry. All farmers should take note of their host responsibilities if there is a function where alcohol will be consumed on their properties.
Firstly, they need to make sure shearing contractors have health and safety systems in place to look after their workers. If farmers have an open shed and hire their own shearers, they are fully responsible for ensuring that health and safety systems are set up and adhered to.
Other issues to take note of are under-age drinkers and drug use. The latter should never be allowed on-farm. While under-age drinkers can be served alcohol at private functions where alcohol is not sold to them, they should be closely monitored if they are allowed to drink. That should be at the discretion of the employer and/or landowner.