Friday, 21 June 2024 13:50

Farmers back review of health and safety laws

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
David Birkett. David Birkett.

Farmers are hoping for a respite from complex national health and safety laws, under review by the Coalition Government.

Federated Farmers workplace health and safety spokesman David Birkett says there’s plenty of room for improvement including putting in place a system that’s appropriate for the scale of the farm.

Last week Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Brooke van Velden announced that a roadshow will be held over the regions in the coming months to consult with stakeholders.

Van Velden says this is the first step to deliver on the commitment to reforming health and safety law and regulations, set out in the ACT-National Coalition Agreement. 

“Our health and safety culture can be summed up by the sea of orange road cones that have taken over the country. From Santa parades to property development, you can’t get a lot done without having to set up a barricade of cones,” she says.

“While they may improve health and safety in some places, in other situations their prevalence just doesn’t make any sense. 

“Businesses and community organisations spend a huge amount of money trying to keep people safe, but it’s worthwhile asking: are the rules and expectations proportionate to the actual risks, and when should common sense prevail?”

Birkett says the review is long-overdue and much-needed.

“Health and safety is incredibly important on farms, and we should always be looking for ways to get better, but the rules need to be fair, practical and effective,” Birkett says.

“I’m not convinced the current settings are quite right. There seems to be a lot more cost, complexity and compliance for farmers, but are we getting any better outcomes? A lot of it just feels like box ticking rather than meaningful change.

“The number of clipboards, road cones and fluorescent vests may have increased exponentially, but we’re yet to see a meaningful decrease in workplace incidents.

“That’s why I’m really pleased to see the Government taking a closer look at this issue so they can better understand what’s working, what isn’t, and most importantly – why.”

Birkett points out that right now, it doesn’t matter how big or small one’s operation is. Everyone is expected to operate at a similar level of health and safety compliance, he says.

  “For a small farm, that’s often very onerous. We need to get the balance right.”

Birkett also wants to see the Government consider the amount of pressure currently going onto the PCBU (person in charge of a business unit).

  “Yes, there need to be robust safety procedures, but there should also be a level of self-responsibility from employees. Sometimes it feels like the employer is liable for everything.

  “This review is a great opportunity for farmers to share our concerns and experiences to help improve these rules and regulations for everyone.”

He’s urging farmers to give their feedback to the Government.

“The Government can’t make changes to fix the system if we don’t tell them what’s broken.”

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