Health and Safety Culture in the Primary Industry

Although the primary industry is the backbone of our economy, it has one of the highest percentages of injuries and deaths.  This may be in part due to the physical nature of the work undertaken. But also it is not until someone close is seriously harmed or killed that we realise the seriousness of health and safety.

Many of us get frustrated with rules that seem beyond common sense.  However, businesses that simply rely on their workers applying common sense to their tasks have a fundamental misunderstanding about the workplace risks and their duties to mitigate that risk.  At the end of the day, we are all human and after a long day of work we can all make mistakes – some that could be fatal.

The good news is that more businesses in the primary industry not only understand that health and safety policies protect their workers, but also that a safe workplace benefits the business (at a fundamental level fewer accidents equals increased productivity).  This is a mind-set shift from viewing health and safety rules as mandatory red-tape to using health and safety processes to improve the business.

Businesses that are yet to make this shift need to do so urgently as the government is clamping down on businesses that do not put the health and safety of their workers first.  WorkSafe NZ has demonstrated that a relaxed attitude towards health and safety is no longer tolerable and the new Health and Safety at Work Act places greater incentives on businesses to put safety before profitability.  With harsher penalties, businesses cannot afford to have a relaxed attitude towards health and safety.

What are the new laws and what does this mean for me?

The Health and Safety at Work Act passed on 27 August 2015 and will come into force on 4 April 2016.  The Act is designed to encourage a stronger health and safety culture in New Zealand workplaces.

The changes are unlikely to significantly impact businesses that already have comprehensive health and safety policies and processes in place.  These businesses will already have a strong health and safety culture. However, you should take this opportunity to review your policies and processes to make sure that your business has a strong health and safety culture and complies with the new law.

If you need a health and safety plan or your plan needs updating, we recommend getting in touch with FarmOsh health and safety consultants (see contact details below).  FarmOsh helps farmers manage their health and safety obligations by undertaking on-farm assessments, developing Farm Safety Plans tailored to each farm and providing ongoing support.  Having an independent third party will provide you with an objective perspective to your health and safety practices and provide you with comfort that you are upholding your obligations.

What exactly is changing?

Key parts of the law include:

  • All persons “conducting a business or undertaking” (“PCBU”) have a primary duty to work with other PCBUs to ensure the safety of all workers.  This includes all workplaces, work activities and working relationships.
  • Key individuals (directors or partners) have a duty to understand the health and safety aspects of the business and ensure compliance.  If these individuals breach their duties, they can be personally liable and may be subject to conviction or fines.
  • All businesses must engage with workers and have effective practices that allow workers to participate in improving health and safety practices on an ongoing basis.
  • Workers may request that the PCBU elect a health and safety representative.  Businesses with fewer than 20 workers that are not classified as high risk are excluded from this requirement.  Regulations are currently being drafted to classify high risk industries. Dairy farming is likely to be excluded.
  • There is an extended duty to notify Worksafe NZ of health and safety incidents.  The duty now covers accidents and incidents which expose a person to serious risk.
  • Workers’ rights to cease work where the work exposes a serious health and safety risk now applies to contractors.
  • There is a significant increase in penalties for failing to comply.

The law makes it clear that while farming businesses have a duty ensure that the farm is a safe workplace, the duties apply only to the parts of the farm where workers are working.  The duties do not apply to the farm house (although landlords have obligations to provide safe accommodation under the Residential Tenancies Act) or any other part of the farm unless work is being carried out in that part at the time.  People who enter the farm also have a duty to ensure their own safety.

What happens next?

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and WorkSafe NZ are currently developing regulations and guidance material to help PCBUs meet their duties under the new law.

Where can I find out more?

If you need help with your health and safety policies or have any questions please contact BlackmanSpargo on 07 343 9393 or admin@.rurallaw.co.nz

Contact Dave Woolerton at FarmOSH on 0800 132 766 or info@farmosh.com

WorkSafe NZ has just launched a new information website specifically providing health and safety guidance for farms: www.saferfarms.org.nz

DairyNZ also provides a compliance toolkit for farmers:

http://www.dairynz.co.nz/people/compliance