Farmers urged to face up to workplace risks

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Police and firefighters at the scene of a fatal quad bike accident on a rugged Awarua farm in 2010. File photo / APN
Police and firefighters at the scene of a fatal quad bike accident on a rugged Awarua farm in 2010. File photo / APN

The number of farm injuries has decreased but farmers are still taking too many risks, says Federated Farmers.

Safety statistics show a slight decrease in on-farm injury claims for 2011, but Federated Farmers remains concerned that farmers are still endangering their health, lives and livelihoods.

"Statistics New Zealand's work-related injury ACC claim statistics show a small improvement in the agriculture and fisheries sector, continuing a decreasing trend for claims over the last three years from 250 per 1000 full-time equivalent workers (FTEs) in 2009 to 211 last year," says Federated Farmers health and safety spokeswoman Jeanette Maxwell.

"However, 28,100 claims is still far too many and there is still a lot of work to be done to get all New Zealand's farmers taking workplace safety seriously, as we still outstrip all other industries in the workplace injury and death statistics."

According to Department of Labour statistics there have been 23 workplace fatalities so far this year, including nine in the agriculture sector with accidents varying from tractor roll-overs and farm vehicle accidents to electrocution and being hit by a tree.

Most farm deaths, according to the department, involve vehicles or machinery.

Quad bike accidents have come under particular focus, prompting a special project aimed at reducing the number of accidents and fatalities. The latest fatalities occurred this month. A 10-year-old was killed in a quad bike accident in Wairarapa and an Australian tourist died after being severely injured in a quad bike accident near Auckland.

Federated Farmers is an active member of the Agricultural Health and Safety Council, which includes other industry bodies such as ACC, DairyNZ, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and FarmSafe.

"For some time, New Zealand has lagged behind other countries in workplace safety statistics across the board and MBIE has clearly signalled an intention to turn these statistics and the real life stories behind them around," Mrs Maxwell says.

"It is vital for everyone in New Zealand's primary sector to realise that the old 'she'll be right, it won't happen to me' attitude is letting us down - not only costing our farmers billions of dollars in lost productivity annually, but also placing a huge emotional strain on many rural families."

There is often little access to relief cover when a farmer is hurt and the impact of fatalities on families is horrific, says Mrs Maxwell.

Farming presents unique workplace challenges which must be identified and mitigated as much as possible for farmers to meet their responsibility of taking "all practicable steps" to prevent injury under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

"This can be difficult as farmers often have very large areas, with a range of terrain, stock types and machinery, to consider," says Mrs Maxwell, who is a member of one of the Independent Taskforce's reference groups, reviewing New Zealand workplace health and safety system.

"One thing we have to ensure is that any regulation enacted by MBIE is sensible and fit for purpose.

"Federated Farmers is continuing to work to ensure the ministry sees education as an important part of the health and safety message."

Agriculture is one of five sectors which are the focus of specific action plans involving collaboration with industry.

The Government wants to see a 25 per cent reduction in workplace serious harm and fatalities by 2020, with an interim target of 10 per cent by 2016.

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