Sandy Scarrow, Fruition Horticulture (First seen in The Orchardist, April 2016)

The 4th of April this year sees the introduction of new Health and Safety legislation which has some significant implications for those owning, managing and working within the horticultural sector. In this article we discuss some of those changes and then cover some practical things that can be done to manage these.

Why Make the Changes?

Many of the changes were recommended from the Royal Commission into the Pike River mining disaster. The changes have been made to the legislation because the workplace can be very dangerous. In the primary sector for example, 120 people have died on New Zealand farms (which include orchards and packhouses) since 2008. Talk amongst the people around you and I am sure you will be able to site local examples of people who either died or were seriously injured in our industry. The aim of the new legislation is to reduce workplace deaths by 25% by 2020. This in turn will reduce the number of serious injuries or “near hits”.

More importantly, the changes hopefully move the management of health and safety away from covering your butt but making sure that the paperwork is all up to date, to ensuring that workplace safety becomes a part of the workplace culture. As they say in the ad campaign around this law change, every worker has a right to a safe workplace and every family has the right to know that their loved one is going to a workplace that will return them home safely.

What Are the Main Changes?

The key emphasis is that everyone in the workplace has a responsibility for health and safety – and this must be from the top down. The main requirements are:
oEvery person conducting a business or undertaking (a PCBU) has to do what it can within its influence and control to ensure the health and safety of workers and people affected by its work
o Every officer acting for the PCBU has a duty of due diligence to take reasonable steps to ensure that the PCBU is meeting its health and safety obligations
o All workers have obligations to take reasonable care and follow reasonable instructions
o Every PCBU is required to have effective worker participation practices to engage with its workers
o The definition of the workplace has been changed to include only areas where work is being undertaken or usually takes place. It includes farm buildings and structures necessary for the operation of the business and the areas immediately surrounding them, but excludes the family home on the farm or orchard.
o There is a shift from identification of hazards, including some trivial hazards previously identified, to managing risk.

What Does This Mean?

Clarification of Who is Responsible for Health and Safety

The introduction of the term “person conducting a business or undertaking” has been brought about to clarify the level within a business of who is responsible for health and safety. As owners of businesses we have always been clear of our responsibilities but the legislation now clearly puts the onus on all Directors of companies or Trustees of a Trust, for example, to do whatever is within their influence and control, take “all practicable steps” to manage health and safety.
The ownership structures within a horticultural business can become quite complex. Companies and Trusts are set up to manage assets in various ways. As a Director or a Trustee it is important that you do all in your power to influence and control health and safety.

“All Practicable Step”

The legislation introduces the term “all practicable steps”. This is yet to be defined in case law but it sounds all encompassing. This means that all PCBUs must understand the issues within the workplace that create risk and take all practicable steps to manage these risks. As a Director or Trustee you have a governance role in the organisation. In this role you are responsible for holding the managers (often yourself) to account for the business operations and ensure effective compliance with the law. You must therefore take all practicable steps to ensure that this occurs with respect to health and safety. Ignorance of a situation will not be a defense if something goes wrong – you need to know you are abiding by the law by making active enqury.

The Workplace

At times, the definition of workplace, for those who live and work in the same place, has become confused. The legislation now clearly separates the family home out from the workplace. This however does not let you off the hook if children or visitors to your home choose to go out into the orchard. They are then entering a workplace and need to be aware of the risks and the controls set in place to manage those risks.

safetree pictureWhat Can You Do?

In essence many things have remained the same and the new law simply clarifies responsibility and accountability. The main thing is that a genuine effort is made to make the health and safety of those employed by you, or an organization you have some control in, or who visit your workplace, front and centre of your thinking and of those around you. The aim is to move thinking away from compliance more to safety leadership.

There are some great resources around to assist in this safety leadership. The Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation has considerable information on their website. For example this page provides some great tips and details on the law regarding worker participation. (http://www.dol.govt.nz/infozone/businessessentials/safety/plan/participation.asp). A particularly useful website is www.Safetree.nz. This is a website aimed at reducing workplace injury in the forestry sector. There are a number of similarities between people working in this sector and ours. Many of the resources are available directly from the site, some are only accessible through registering with the organization. On the website are useful templates for identifying hazards, training material and posters for people working in the sector. Have a look around and determine which resources are useful for your workplace. It’s always easier working from something someone else has developed and altering it to suit you purposes rather than working from scratch.

Figure 1 Example of a poster available on the Safetree website relevant to the horticulture sector

To make health and safety front and centre you can:

o Encourage a culture in your workplace of always thinking of health and safety
o Make health and safety a “hard item” on every agenda for team meetings within the workplace
o Prioritise debriefs of injury and “near hit” events – make them an opportunity to learn not apportion blame. Simple open questions can quickly identify the learning. Ask questions such as “What went wrong?”, “What went well?”, “What do we need to change?”
o Make sure those changes identified are made!!
o Use the resources available (eg posters on the Safetree website) to create visual health and safety messages for you and your staff.

The changes that come into force in April signal a change in culture around workplace health and safety. Owners and managers must lead and work effectively to ensure sage workplaces. If you haven’t already made the changes, use the on-line resources available to transition you workplace to a safer one where everyone understands their role in ensuring everyone is safe.