Farmers need to stand up to Worksafe bullies.
By Robin Grieve
I read with disappointment comments by farmers and farming industry representatives that Worksafe is being unreasonable in banning passengers from quad bikes. My disappointment was not because I disapproved of their attitude, not at all; my disapproval is because they should understand health and safety law to know that Worksafe is not able to ban passengers.
Worksafe enforces the Health and Safety legislation which requires employers to take all reasonable and practical steps to provide a safe workplace. Determining what those steps are is the responsibility of each farmer employer, not Worksafe.
Worksafe do issue guidelines and they do have the power to issue warnings and subsequently prosecute if they believe that a farmer, who is not following their guidelines, is not taking all reasonable and practical steps. Likewise any farmer employer has the right to challenge any warning and defend any prosecution in court. The court is the ultimate decider of the law, not Worksafe.
The problem of farmers being dictated to by an increasingly belligerent and unreasonable Worksafe exists because farmers are not challenging Worksafe in court. The validity of Worksafe’s guidelines on passengers and helmets has not been properly tested in law. There have been prosecutions and punishing fines imposed by the court and Worksafe a buoyed by this, but in each case the farmers being prosecuted have not helped themselves, or their industry, and have pleaded guilty. The legitimacy of Worksafe’s assertion that they were not taking all reasonable and practicable steps never tested.
Farmer representative groups such as Federated Farmers would do well to cast aside their political correctness and provide the legal support for a test case when next a farmer is bullied unreasonably by Worksafe.
Worksafe is not being deliberately oppressive, their problem is they are bureaucrats. Bureaucrats differ from real people because they see things as either black or white when in fact the world is in full colour.
In a black and white world when a manufacturer stipulates helmets should be worn and passengers not carried, these should be enforced without question. In the real world a reasonable question would be, why do the manufacturers stipulate these and do their reasons apply in all situations?
I witnessed an official at the Northland Field days wearing a helmet whist riding a quad around the site. The road was full of people, he was never able to ride at more than walking pace. Did he honestly think that there was some risk of a head injury?
This is what Worksafe’s bully tactics are doing, they are taking a law, which is designed to be reasonable and practical itself, and turning it in to an imposition of dogma that must be followed blindly. In Worksafe’s world it is better to have halfwits blindly obeying rules rather than a smart trained operator making an informed judgement of the risks of any situation and any particular need to mitigate them.
Quads are designed to be inherently unstable. Their instability is the trade-off price for a machine which is very manoeuvrable, and has the traction to negotiate difficult terrain. The manufacturers accept the instability because they intend the machines to be actively ridden. This involves the operator using their weight to counter centrifugal forces at play when cornering. The movement of the operator to the inside of each corner when cornering means that an unstable machine becomes very stable.
When carrying a passenger a quad cannot be actively ridden which means they cannot be ridden at the same speed and in the same places as they could when ridden solo, but this does not mean they cannot be ridden. In fact if a quad is not being actively ridden, in other words the rider is just sitting in one place on the seat, then it is no less stable with a passenger on it. There are situations when quads do not need to be actively ridden and in those situations passengers can be carried quite safely.
I was contacted by a farmer who had a policy that if a quad is being ridden on a formed track and at a speed lower than 10 kph then helmets were not needed and passengers could be carried. This is a very sensible policy because at low speeds on a formed track the quad does not need to be actively ridden. However despite this very sensible policy a Worksafe bureaucrat issued him a warning for carrying a passenger. The fact is that having studied the risks and decided on a suitable policy this farmer is providing a safer workplace than one where no risk analysis is done and Worksafe dogma is blindly followed.
If the industry wants to make a positive difference to safety on the farm it needs full colour vision to take in to account the complexities at play, and so it must challenge the black and white world of the Worksafe bureaucrat. This is what the legislation intended but farmers by not defending themselves in court are subjecting themselves to an increasingly oppressive bureaucracy. It is up to the industry to stand up for itself and take control by defending itself in court.
Farming representative groups could also nullify Worksafe with the writing of sensible Industry guidelines on quads, including when and where passengers should be carried. Farming is a progressive industry, sensible guidelines will be quickly and enthusiastically adopted. Safety is too important to leave to a government agency.