A government safety programme designed for farmers with help from the agricultural sector is being welcomed by North Otago Federated Farmers, as deaths on farms continue to dominate workplace fatalities.
Safer Farms, a multi-year programme designed by farmers and the wider agricultural sector, Worksafe New Zealand and the Accident Compensation Corporation, was launched on Monday.
Safer Farms takes the health and safety message directly to rural communities through rural retailer education, school programmes, “how to” sessions at field days and rural industry groups who will help provide on-site training.
The initiative comes as deaths on farms continue to be a serious issue around the country.
Between 2008 and 2014 there were 120 farm deaths, an average of 17 a year.
In 2014, 40% of all work place deaths took place on farms with the dairy and dry-stock sectors rated alongside forestry as the top three most dangerous sectors.
North Otago Federated Farmers president Richard Strowger said death rates on farms were out of control and effective action needed to be taken to address the issue as soon as possible.
“The number of deaths on farms is too high, it’s right up there with suicides, which is not good. That’s a lot of farmers. Somehow we have to get together to find solutions to these issues and what is specifically killing farmers … is it long work hours? Is it a lack of concentration? It’s easy to blame machinery.”
In a statement, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse said there were four times as many farming deaths as in the forestry or construction sectors, which needed to change.
“The death and injury rate behind the farm gate is simply unacceptable. Someone is killed every fortnight – this needs to change.
“However, the number of deaths and injuries on farms won’t be reduced by the Government sending out more inspectors. Only farmers can directly influence this toll and Safer Farms aims to help them do this by finding health and safety solutions that work.”
Mr Strowger said safety started on the farm and that a pragmatic approach was best suited to tackling the issue.
“Farmers don’t react well to things that say this will fix that … being practical people, they don’t buy in to that, especially the older farmers. You have to get the message across to farmers, but the question is how best to get that across. You have to have a safety plan, but farmers need to buy in to it.
“Worksafe have been under a bit of a hit because they have come up with big fines for people. You can drive a car up the road without a seatbelt and you don’t get a $20,000 fine, but if you don’t have a helmet on a quad bike, you do.”
Mr Strowger believes the initiative also needs to work in with those that suffer serious injuries on the farm and aren’t able to carry on working.
The Safer Farms programme includes an easy-to-use toolkit and a comprehensive online resource at www.saferfarms.org.nz, so that farmers have clear health and safety advice and information.
Safer Farms launch events take place around the country throughout February.
However, there is not one scheduled in Oamaru.
One is being held in Timaru at the Caroline Bay Community Lounge on February 18, with another in Dunedin at Waipori Station on February 20.
Both take place between 11am and 1pm.
By Daniel Birchfield