Saturday, 05 September 2015 14:24

New H&S rules not so scary...

Written by 
Rural News’ Peter Burke (right) and WorkSafe NZ’s Nick Barclay. Rural News’ Peter Burke (right) and WorkSafe NZ’s Nick Barclay.

While the Health and Safety legislation debate raged in Parliament, inspectors from WorkSafe NZ were out talking to farmers. One was Rural News reporter Peter Burke who owns a small ‘life sentence’ block in Horowhenua.

A commercial farmer may rightly describe me as a ‘pet’ farmer with my 2.8ha where I run three Dexter cattle, eight Wiltshire breeding ewes, a few chooks and a cat named Sam. 

I have had a small farm for nearly 30 years and despite its size I still have an array of equipment including a quad, a Fergie 35 and sundry other gear. I regard myself as very safety conscious, but I decided to put myself to the test – scrutiny by a WorkSafe inspector.

Nick Barclay, from Central Hawkes Bay, spent two hours on my farm, much longer than the normal visit because I wanted to interview him and understand a typical call on a farmer. His visits can range from 20-60 minutes plus, depending on how busy the farmer is.

We chatted over coffee and cake (no I didn’t bake it) in the lounge and he pulled out his Safer Farms Toolkit, taking me through its impressive pages. 

Here’s what normally happens, he said.

“A lot of the time they ask me questions, which is great and means we are achieving a dialogue. We talk about the vehicle they have on the farm and if they have employees I take a special interest in this and explain their obligations to staff.”

Barclay says farmers commonly raise the subject of visitors to their farm. Often they are surprised to learn they are not liable for anyone on the farm whom they don’t know about, such as shooters and fishers. And they don’t have to brief visitors on ‘everyday farming activities’.

“The only thing they must warn them about is natural hazards such as landslides, rivers, swamps and wasp nests. Most are relieved to hear this and in fact would brief people about such hazards in the normal course of a conversation. And we talk about quads, tractors and other farm machinery – all of which can be dangerous.” 

Good maintenance of vehicles and machinery is important and Barclay says this occupies some time. But he believes with all the machinery on a farm, a major issue is managing people – especially children -- to make sure they are safe at all times. 

Sometimes he arrives on a farm and meets people who are bit ‘reactionary’, but this quickly disappears when they realise he is not out to ‘ping’ them for minor mistakes.  

He hears lots of interesting stories and often the words ‘common sense’. But though he agrees with this, common sense can easily go by the board when a person is tired or in a rush to get a job done. Suddenly there is an accident.

“Most people just want to do a good job and farmers are no different. They want to be proud of their job… say, saving a ewe and a set of twins at the bottom of a gully because they won’t get through the night.

“This is an instinctive act that could sadly cause an accident. I heard about a farmer up on a ridge on a quad on a windy day when suddenly a huge gust sent him 100m down a bank. Looking back, ‘common sense’ says he shouldn’t have been out there, but it had never happened before and he just got hit by a freak gust.” 

Barclay hears some horror stories, but he says farmers now realise the importance of safety and are dealing with issues. Many have learned from their mistakes.

Not so bad!

The Safer Farms Toolkit is a well-produced publication that helps farmers self-assess their operations. It sets out their legal obligations and offers simple advice on how to comply with the law.

There is nothing threatening in the toolkit and it offers useful templates, including a hazards register and a simple one page assessment on how best to decide what is the most appropriate farm vehicle to use for a given task. 

It also offers templates for tractor maintenance, a visitor’s induction form and one for a contractor, plus an accident or near-miss report. There is also a sample staff meeting report.

Yes, there is a page on how to safely operate a tractor and quad and these should come as no surprise. It also has a section on how to deal with children onfarm.

Personally, I found this an excellent and helpful publication.

As for how I came through the test: I was praised for the condition of my quad and for having a helmet. (Rural News requires me to wear a helmet whenever I ride a quad or a side-by-side.) 

I got top marks for my cattleyards which Barclay says are in good condition. But he says I need a cover on the PTO of my aging Fergie, which I will fix. He commented on the other safety equipment on the farm and said I have a good understanding of safety.

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