Lynda Gray

There’s more awareness and conversations about health and safety but it’s not translating to safer practices on farms.

“We’re not jumping up and down in celebration; there’s still a way to go,” Al McCone, WorkSafe agriculture sector lead says.

Since the Health and Safety at Work Act came into force on April 2016 there’s been little change in agriculture workplace fatalities and accidents. WorkSafe stats over the last three years until April 2019 show there were 36 deaths. An encouraging sign was the halving in fatalities between 2016/17 and 2017/18 from 16 to 8, but McCone has his own theory on that aberration.

“It was a wetter year than usual so it’s likely that there was a lower use of tractors and quads.”

All but a few of the deaths were caused by vehicles or machinery and the usual suspect – quad bikes – was involved in almost half the incidents. Noteworthy also was the number of victims in the over-65 category which McCone surmises was due to the reduced agility of older farmers to leap clear from rolling or out of control vehicles. He said some people were now choosing to stay off quads in favour of side-by-sides and that was a good choice so long as they used a safety belt.

“If there’s one message to get across it’s that in any vehicle with a roll bar a seat belt has to be worn because if the vehicle rolls you’ll be tossed around.”

The number of people requiring at least a week off work due to injuries hovered at about 150 to 200 a month from September 2017 until September 2018 which was on par with the long-term rolling average.

Representative organisations such as Federated Farmers, Beef+Lamb NZ, DairyNZ are doing a good job of making farmers more aware of health and safety issues, but a lot of farmers still haven’t accepted they had to change their behaviour.

McCone puts the inertia down to two factors: the small business structure of most farms; and lack of a perceived need for planning around health and safety, which farmers often fob off as ‘common sense’. Farm businesses are high capital investments but usually run by a single labour unit with family or contracted help as required. The administration of the business is often regarded as low priority, especially in areas such as health and safety documentation where there is no legal requirement or deadlines to meet, he says. Also, for many there isn’t the compunction to act especially if there have been few if any farm-related accidents requiring medical attention. Instead farmers are comfortable in taking calculated risks around routine tasks they do day in and day out – until their luck runs out resulting in serious harm or worse.

The attitude that health and safety is all about ‘what I have to do when something goes wrong’ is the wrong mentality,he says.

“It should be from the perspective that I have a plan in place to look after and protect the key assets and aspects of my business. When people start thinking like that it doesn’t become a chore to commit a plan to paper.”

Must do better

A WorkSafe survey was highly critical of agriculture employer and employee attitudes to health and safety. The 2017 report, ‘Health and Safety attitudes and behaviour’ looked specifically at forestry, construction, manufacturing and agriculture sectors which have the poorest health and safety track record.

The report said that whereas forestry had faced up to its problems, agriculture employer awareness of their legal obligations under the Act and how to comply with them was the lowest of any sector. A number of measures were suggested to improve health and safety in the sector including: more encouragement of personal responsibility; more relevant, job-related health and safety training, including familiarisation with equipment; more attention to safe work practices; more visits and mentoring by health and safety representatives, including WorkSafe site visits; and simple, workable health and safety policies.


OnFarmSafety consultant Gregg Peters gets lots of questions about kids on farms, and helmets on quad bikes and side-by-sides. How to safeguard kids and minimise their risk to harm onfarm is a subject he prefers to address directly with clients. There are no enforced regulations around the wearing of helmets on quad bikes or side-by-sides but in the course of an investigation due to an accident the owner’s manual for the vehicle in question would be used as a starting point.

“If the manual says you should wear a helmet it’s the logical thing to do, it relates back to taking reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risk of harm so.”

Peters, who covers the lower half of the South Island says there was an increase in business following introduction of the new Act in 2016 but that has tailed off to some extent.

“There’s still a lot of farmers with nothing in place or very little.”

Most of his new clients were signing up for a JobDone phone app which cost $170 a month (plus GST). That doesn’t include an initial farm audit, which is optional, but is inclusive of the necessary documentation and onfarm visits.

Recharge and review

OnFarmSafety NZ has the following suggestions on how to keep a Health and Safety Plan up-to-date and relevant.

  • Make sure all staff are familiar with the health & safety plan
  • Discuss with farm employees what areas of health & safety need improving
  • Ensure all staff training is up to date
  • Make sure vehicle maintenance is up to date
  • Meet with the contractors that will be used for the coming season to complete contractor inductions.
  • There are lots of online resources on what to do to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act. Good starting places are and

(First published in Country-Wide magazine, November 2019).