Questions are being raised about the level of medical care rural New Zealanders can access under COVID-19 alert level 4 restrictions.
However, farming leaders have truly stepped up to the plate, bringing the changes we are seeing today. That’s because the rural sector has started to accept that the cost to people onfarm is too high and change was necessary.
While agricultural jobs don’t have the highest risk, farming suffers the highest numbers of deaths and injuries: 124 people died in the sector between 2011 and 2017.
More change is still needed and we are seeing a real desire for that. There is growing recognition among farmers that good health and safety management is good business practice.
Many farmers now accept this isn’t about compliance, or form-filling, but about making health and safety a priority, identifying and managing risks on their farms and communicating this well to people who need to know.
Slowly, but surely, this appears to be reflected in accident statistics. Fewer farmers died last year than in any year since 2009. And in 2017 deaths were almost half those of the previous four years. The numbers injured and needing more than a week off work is still too high, but it’s also declining.
Many things cause accidents on farms – weather for instance – and we can’t be complacent. Several people have died this year.
However, the 2017 figures were encouraging, and the agricultural sector should take much of the credit for the improvement.
The sector has worked hard to lift its health and safety performance since the launch of WorkSafe’s Safer Farms programme in 2015. Industry leaders have spearheaded this – Beef + Lamb NZ, DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and Horticulture NZ.
For instance, almost 4000 farmers have now attended BLNZ’s health and safety workshops and DairyNZ has been running its Safety Sorted and FarmTune programmes.
Farmers agree on three main things capable of lifting performance in health and safety – leadership, caring for people and risk management.
Leadership is happening, and while NZ farmers have always cared strongly about their people and their communities, they now see there are better ways to take care of them. Risk management is the biggest factor in that better caring.
The major cause of lost-time work injuries on farms are, notably, working with animals, slips, trips and falls, and lifting and handling.
Farmers are recognising that managing these hazards is simply part of good business management, because having people off sick hits productivity.
But there are critical risks -- the ones most likely to kill people. Farmers and all industry must focus more strongly on these; the big one is vehicles.
Evaluation of ACC data from the past 17 years has shown that 80% of fatalities on farms involved vehicles and machinery. Over the past three years that has edged closer to 90%.
There is a perception that the people who die in farm vehicle accidents are the young and headstrong – ‘hooning’ at the wheel.
In fact, over half the people killed are experienced and aged over 55 -- the steady, the experienced, the parents and grandparents; yet too often they are the victims. Unfortunately, accidents happen, even to people who have done a job hundreds of times for years.
This year, we want those people working with farmers to help them identify and manage critical risks in vehicles and machinery.
WorkSafe inspectors will talk with farmers about their vehicles during assessments. With others in the sector we’ll be helping develop operator protector devices and new and improved guidance and standards. WorkSafe will also explore new and improved training and possible incentives.
We ask for your continued support, and together we can drive further positive change.
• Tony Watson is general manager of the Agricultural Leaders Health and Safety Action Group.