Taskforce aims for safer farms

By Kara Lok

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The Independent Taskforce of Workplace Health and Safety's message is clear; too many people are being injured and dying on our farms.

The agricultural sector needs to take health and safety more seriously.

The Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation's latest statistics show 408 people were seriously injured and 12 people died in work-related accidents on New Zealand farms last year.

The Taskforce presented its recommendations to the Government on April 30 which, if adopted, will change much of New Zealand's workplace health and safety system.

The industry needs to face some uncomfortable facts; agriculture has the second-highest workplace fatality rate in New Zealand.

Farmers need to ensure they are operating a safe workplace both for employees and for themselves by having a health and safety plan in place on their farm and, more importantly, following it.

The Federation's Occupational Health and Safety Manual is a great place to start, providing a step-by-step guide to identifying and managing farm hazards.

The manual can be purchased at Federated Farmers' online shop on www.fedfarm.org.nz.

Heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all regulation is unlikely to be effective on farms.

Federated Farmers believes that by taking health and safety more seriously and working with the Government, the sector can make some positive changes to implementing and enforcing workplace health and safety on farms.

In November last year we made a number of recommendations to the taskforce appointed by the Government to undertake an independent review of workplace health and safety systems.

One of the Federation's recommendations was for a more educative approach.

Many farmers are not aware what their health and safety requirements are and do not realise their farm, which is their home, is also a workplace which falls under the requirements set out in the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (HSE Act).

By creating the new semi-independent Workplace Health and Safety Agency, which comes into force in November, the agricultural sector will, it is hoped, begin to see a more education-focused approach.

The taskforce also recommended the new agency develop and include approved codes of practice and guidance material in the regulations to encourage worker participation.

If guidance material and sector-focused codes are developed in consultation with the agricultural sector, Federated Farmers believes it could make it easier for farmers and their staff to undertake their health and safety requirements, including for the self-employed and contractors.

It would address the issue the Federation raised last year that some farmer owner-operators who employ contractors on a seasonal basis do not realise they are subject to the HSE Act.

It is both the Government's and the sector's responsibility to ensure all farmers understand what they are required to do and realise they are legally responsible for any accidents on their farm.

By creating a new law in consultation with the agricultural industry, we can address the current law's one-size-fits-all approach to workplace health and safety and formulate a better understanding of the sector's unique challenges.

- Hamilton News

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