The Employer’s Obligation for Safety in the Workplace

The national statistics on safety in the workplace on farms are nothing short of appalling. It is a sobering fact that the number of deaths on farms in the last two years was greater than the loss of lives in the PikeRiver mining disaster.

In the context of a farm employer’s obligations under Occupational Safety and Health, an employer has the important, onerous and solemn task of ensuring the workplace is safe.

Difficult employees tend to be people who shun authority and rules. These people are not only dangerous to themselves in a farming environment but are also potentially dangerous to others. Safety on the farm is of paramount importance. An employer must remember that disciplinary action with respect to safety has to be treated in the employment agreement as serious misconduct.

An employer is often reluctant to take immediate steps with a recalcitrant employee for fear of breaching the disciplinary procedures required by the law. However, it is most important that employers understand that they must (not “may”) act immediately and decisively where safety in the workplace is at risk.

It is helpful but not essential for the employment agreement to sanction immediate and decisive action by the employer where safety is at risk. Safety in the workplace will always prevail ahead of process.

If a farm employer is having significant difficulty with a careless, unmotivated or uncommitted employee, it is essential to ensure that that person complies with the safety and health requirements. Any breach of those obligations can give the employer the right to suspend and ultimately dismiss that person.