Wednesday, 05 August 2015 06:36

Not just farmers who are responsible for H&S

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WorkSafe’s Al McCone says workers must take care to ensure their own safety. WorkSafe’s Al McCone says workers must take care to ensure their own safety.

If your workers do things outside the rules of your business and you’ve told them not to, then they will be held ultimately responsible for any incident, says Al McCone, programme manager agriculture, WorkSafe New Zealand.

But if a workplace has a culture of posting rules but ignoring them it becomes the responsibility of the farmer or employing contractor, he told a practical session on health at safety at the recent HortNZ conference. 

“If you have a set of rules there for the paperwork and not the practice you could be held liable.”

But he says workers must take reasonable care to ensure their own safety. 

“So [the onus] is not all on the owner of the company or the employer, it’s also on the person doing the job. The classic one in farming at the moment is ‘I tell them to wear their helmets and they don’t.’ So if you’re the guy who doesn’t wear the helmet – you put it on and as soon as you get around the corner you take it off, and you kill or hurt yourself – the farmer will not be held responsible, only you,” McCone says.

“If you have a rule that you never go up a track in the wet and everyone obeys it except one day someone takes a shortcut and possibly pays with his or her life, it cannot be blamed on the farmer. So there is [an onus of] reasonable care on everyone.”

McCone says under the new Health and Safety Reform Bill, if you are in business you have responsibility. “Under the… bill, those defined as ‘persons conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU) will have health and safety duties. Those with overlapping duties such as a farmer and a contractor working on a farm must discuss who is responsible for what.”

McCone, who formerly worked for Landcorp, remembers that five years ago at a forestry site everyone was dressed in green bush shirts and guys had to duck as equipment got caught in trees. 

“Go there now and there are orange cones everywhere, every morning there is a meeting on who is responsible for what, who is doing what, how far will we be away from the site and everyone is in hi-vis gear. It’s a complete turnaround that wasn’t pushed by us. The forestry industry stood up and said ‘we’ve got to do something about this’.”

McCone says in the last 16 months the industry has had one death, vs 13 in 2013, and serious injuries have dropped by 65%. Forestry was, after dairy, the most dangerous sector in New Zealand. It is an example of how everyone has worked together to make the industry safer. “It [shows that] if you involve everyone it works. It is pretty simple stuff.”

McCone says if an inspector comes onto a farm he is more likely to be looking to see if a farmer has himself thought through the risks on his farm and come up with a plan, rather than trying to see if a document prepared by a consultant is sitting on a shelf. 

He told Rural News the new legislation will be reported back to Parliament after completing the select committee stage and is likely to be passed into law soon. There will be a period when all regulations must be worked through to be brought into line with the new law.

But his advice to farmers is “if you are doing things well under the current legislation you will be doing things well under new legislation”.              

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