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Farmers not off the hook on health and safety

Farmers not off the hook on health and safety

It’s a complete fallacy that the farming community doesn’t have to worry about health and safety as a result of proposed changes to the Health and Safety Reform Bill, according to an expert in the field.

Crowe Horwath agri health and safety expert Melissa Vining says the recent hype around proposed changes have monopolised the headlines in recent days with many accusing the government of letting farmers off the hook.

However she is quick to dispel the myth that farmers have been given a mandate to ignore health and safety.

Vining says the classification of high and low risk sectors in particular has been in the media spotlight with backbone farming sectors sheep, beef and dairy being classified as low risk. “This means most farms will not need to appoint a health and safety representative.”

She cautions people not to let the silliness around worm farming and cat breeding being deemed high risk distract from the very real issues of health and safety being addressed by the Bill.

“This is only one small part of the Bill and farmers of all types still need to be aware of and fulfil their obligations regarding health and safety in their businesses.”

Vining stresses that a key element to the bill is to develop an effective working relationship between all parties (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs), officers and workers) and lower the rate of workplace accidents in New Zealand. This is regardless to whether or not there is an appointed workers health and safety representative.

As someone who works with farmers on a daily basis Vining has been disappointed by the attitude portrayed in the coverage of the issue.

“The majority of farmers know they work in an environment which carries risk. They acknowledge that health and safety is critically important and want clear guidance from the Government on what they need to do.”

Vining notes that along with existing requirements there are several key changes proposed which will affect farmers.

• The workplace has been redefined to the area where you are working or where work usually happens, rather than the whole farm.
• All PCBUs will be required to engage with their workers on matters of health and safety that affect them.
• All PCBUs are required to consult with other PCBUs engaging in work on their farm to identify potential hazards / risks and how they will be addressed.

There are huge upsides to getting health and safety right Vining points out.

“First, you’re protecting yourself and your employees from harm. You also minimise the risk of prosecution if there is a workplace incident. Financially farmers can also receive a 10 per cent reduction in ACC levies for a period of three years once their health and safety management plan is accepted and that can be renewed for subsequent three year periods.”

While the changes might seem confusing, farmers are encouraged not to panic by Vining’s colleague former WorkSafe NZ inspector turned health and safety consultant Richard Tattersfield.

“Once the Bill is passed it is expected to come in to force in April 2016. This gives businesses about eight months to get a good understanding of the new legislation,” says Tattersfield.

Lastly, Vining encourages farmers unsure about what impact the proposed changes will have on them to engage with a health and safety consultant or visit the saferfarms.org.nz website which has some excellent free resources.


ENDS

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