Mindset change needed

 

Quad bike safety is a major issue for NZ farmers

Quad bike safety is a major issue for NZ farmers

THE SAFER Farms initiative, recently introduced by WorkSafe NZ, is a timely one.

Since 2008, 120 people have been killed working on farms in New Zealand: four times more people died on farms last year than in forestry or construction. Figures show that someone is killed on a farm every fortnight; this is a shameful record and it must change.

Improving farmer awareness and understanding of risks involved, along with education on how these risks can be minimised and/or managed, is a more effective and better approach to changing these appalling statistics than dishing out heavy-handed fines.

While farmers may strongly believe in personal responsibility, rather than having ‘big brother’ telling them what to do, they have an inherent intolerance of bureaucracy and attending to endless compliance documents. Still they need to clean up their collective act.

The stats don’t lie. Far too many farmers, farm workers and their families are killed and/or hurt on our country’s farms every year. There is no excuse for the poor safety record these statistics show. Any initiative that saves lives and protects people should be strongly supported.

While many farmers may disagree with some recent interpretations of the Health and Safety Act, like the carrying of quad pillion passengers and heavy fines for not wearing helmets, it is clear the ‘carrot’-only approach is not working. The option to implement the ‘stick’ – fines – is a necessary one.

Yes, farming can be a dangerous occupation, but farmers and their staff must take all necessary precautions and be aware of the risks involved to mitigate the risk of accidents/and or deaths on farm.

Let’s hope more farmers are becoming more aware of the health and safety issues in their workplace. As Peter Jex-Blake, Federated Farmers Gisborne/Wairoa provincial president, said at the Safer Farms launch in his regionlast week – a change in culture is needed. “It requires a change in mind-set; which will take a while, but with the right approach, we will get there.”

Work Safe Minister Michael Woodhouse is right when he says, “The number of deaths and injuries on farms won’t be reduced by the Government sending out more inspectors. Only farmers can directly influence this toll.”

Hopefully Safer Farms will help them do this by finding health and safety solutions that work.

Credibility the key

Fed Farmers national president William Rolleston has a key job to do in maintaining the lobby's credibility with both its membership and the wider community

Fed Farmers national president William Rolleston has a key job to do in maintaining the lobby’s credibility with both its membership and the wider community

FEDERATED FARMERS has undergone a major transition during the past four-five years.

Gone are the days when the Feds would fire out deliberately antagonistic statements chastising government or industry critics for some perceived action – or lack of it. The days of being a screaming skull and demanding attention are thankfully behind it.

For Federated Farmers to be credible, with its members and the wider community, it has to be credible.

Like it or not, the reality is that Feds is the only organisation that can nationally represent the farmer’s view.

National president William Rolleston and chief executive Graham Smith are fairly new in their roles, but both have a similar attitude to what the organisation should be saying and how it should say it. They are firm believers in a ‘quality not quantity’ message.

The move by the organisation’s former chief spin doctor to work for Winston Peters, late last year, has also been timely for Feds. The bombastic style of his messaging is far better suited to an outdated, antiquated, one-trick pony, political dinosaur like NZ First than a modern-day farmer lobby.

However, Fed Farmers remains an advocacy lobby for farmers and so at times it will have to be unabashedly pro-farmer and even controversial. But this approach soon loses impact and effect when it is the lobby’s only modus operandi.

A key challenge for the farmer lobby is how to the repair the reputation of the agricultural sector with the general populace. Too often farmers are portrayed in the mainstream media as moaners, environmental vandals, money hungry bludgers, uneducated oafs and/or any combination of these descriptors.

These kinds of narratives have gone unchallenged for too long – meaning the relationship and understanding between town and country is no longer a small gap but a yawning divide.

Federated Farmers has an important role in helping close this divide. It has a far better chance of winning the hearts and minds of detractors when it is acting with credibility and facts.

It is a big job and will take a huge effort, but the work needs to start now!