Big changes coming for rural contractors

The new Health and Safety Reform Bill will have ''profound changes'' for the rural contracting sector and introduce severe penalties in the event of a bad workplace accident, Rural Contractors New Zealand (RCNZ) chief executive Roger Parton says.

The Bill, which is part of the Government's Working Safer reform package, is intended to play a significant role in reducing workplace injuries and death by 25% by 2020.

In a press release, Labour Minister Simon Bridges said the Bill would ''beef up penalties for non-compliance, and will place more regulatory responsibility on people at every level of the supply chain to ensure their workplace is safe.''

''This will be particularly important in contractor-dominated sectors like forestry,'' Mr Bridges said.

He said it took into account ''modern workplaces with multiple employers, diverse workforces, made up of employees, contractors and others.''

''Irrespective of a person's role within a workplace, they should have the appropriate level of obligation to make sure their safety, and that of others, is not adversely affected''.

The Bill has had its first reading and is now before a select committee.

Mr Parton said the new legislation, which would come into force in April 2015, would allow for a maximum fine of $3 million for a health and safety breach.

''In the past, health and safety was between employer and employee and that will change,'' Mr Parton said.

Not only would employers have to ensure all health and safety requirements are met, the employee would have to as well.

''Every worker will have the responsibility under the Bill to make sure they and their fellow workers are safe.

''[If there is an accident] they can't blame the boss any more.''

He said in addition to the rural contractor ensuring working conditions for him and his staff were safe, the farmer would have to do the same.

''As an example, the farmer would have to make sure all waratahs in a field to be mowed were identified, because if one goes through the cab and injures the driver, the farmer may have problems if it was not clearly identified as a hazard.

''Farmers would have to ask their contractors to make sure they also have the proper health and safety [measures] in place,'' he said.

He said the No 8 wire mentality and complacency were two of the biggest problems in the health and safety area.

''If we have been doing the job for so long and we know it backwards, that is where mistakes and accidents happen.

''It is a big cultural shift and it is going to take time [to change].''

He said all parties would need to ensure that, if worse comes to worse, they could prove they did everything that was reasonably practical at the time.

That is where the soon-to-be introduced sector guidelines come in.

RCNZ, DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and other industry groups have been consulted about the development of guidelines, which outline best practice in particular sectors, such as stock handling.

''Ignorance is going to be no excuse,'' Mr Parton said.

''When looking at the agricultural sector, rural contractors are lower down the scale in terms of accidents.

''The two biggest ones are stock and ATVs.

''Our guys don't have much to do with ATVs, but we [the industry] has had a couple of bad ones last year.

''A guy's foot got caught in a groundspreader and he got pulled through, and another walked into the blade of a hedge trimmer.''

The RCNZ is holding roadshows nationally from May, to tell members and other rural contractors what the changes will mean for them.

It will be in Cromwell on May 27, Oamaru on May 28 and Gore on May 29.