Safety message gets through to farmers in NZ

Quad bike safety is a priority on the Ratapiko, New Zealand farm of Robin and Jacqueline Blackwell. Attitudes to farm safety are changing and fewer farmers are being issued with enforcement notices or facing prosecution, WorkSafe New Zealand says. Source: Stuff NZ

Nationwide, the organisation prosecuted 10 farmers in 2014 and eight in 2015. Last year there were six agricultural prosecutions, of which four were successful. 

Over the same period, the number of notices, warnings and letters issued to farmers fell from 550 to 328. 

The number of farmers facing prosecution by WorkSafe NZ is falling as the industry embraces health and safety pendulum had swung in recent years and most farmers were now on board with the organisation’s work.

“We don’t want to stop farmers doing what they do, we want to help them do it safely and most of them understand that,” he said.

“We’re not out to find things you’re doing wrong and fine you for it, we’re trying to build a rapport and get to a point where if you’ve got a question, you can give us a call.”

The Blackwell’s sheep, beef and dairy support operation, Mangaotea, covers a mix of flat to rolling land, with about 10% of the terrain classed as steep, Mr Blackwell said.

“The main risks are what you’re involved with all the time,” he said.

“There’s a lot of time spent on quads and inattention or distractions would probably be the biggest risks.”

To minimise the risk of a quad bike accident, the couple carried out regular vehicle checks, ensured anyone using a quad was wearing a helmet and suitable clothing and had a no passengers policy.

“Obviously on a farm there are going to be times when you can’t avoid carrying a passenger but we don’t like to do it,” Robin said. “We’re aware of the way it changes the performance of the bike and we really try to avoid it.”

New WorkSafe guidelines on the use of quad bikes asked farmers to look at carrying passengers as a last resort.

“if you have to put a passenger on a quad – and we understand that there might be – it’s important to look at the conditions and be aware of how the added weight can unbalance the bike,” WorkSafe’s Vaughan Maaka said.

“It’s about looking at the risks and how you can manage and minimise them.”

Slippery surfaces and machinery were hazards in the winter months while livestock and fatigue had the potential to cause problems year-round.

“We encourage breaks to reduce fatigue but it also gives people a chance to think about the job they’re going to be doing and mentally prepare for it,” Mrs Blackwell said. “With the livestock, if we start having problems with an animal, it has to go.”

The couple has one contract employee and the trio hold a weekly meeting to discuss risks and potential hazards.

New hazards were likely to be identified as soon as they arose as a result of the regular meetings, Mr Blackwell said.

“It makes you more aware of hazards caused by things like weather in the last week. Also, we’re all working on different parts of the farm and we don’t all see every hazard so it’s important that everyone brings back what they’ve seen and we’re all aware of what’s out there.”

Although getting started with a health and safety program could be daunting, the paperwork and meetings were worthwhile for everyone on the farm, she said.

“It takes a while to get your head around it but it becomes a habit to think about health and safety and we wouldn’t miss a weekly meeting.”

Mr Maaka said it was important farmers kept thinking about health and safety after the paperwork was filed.

“A lot of what goes wrong on a farm goes wrong when people are doing really routine tasks, things they’ve done hundreds or thousands of times before,” he said. “When you get complacent or distracted, that’s when you can get yourself in trouble. It’s great that these guys are thinking about health and safety in everything they do, not just during those meetings.”

Farming is among New Zealand’s most dangerous occupations with 19 people killed in 2015 and 18 in 2016. Each year there are about 20,000 injuries that lead to a loss of productivity and income for farmers. Pastoral farming contributes the bulk of the injuries.