December 2014 . . . Recently, two farmers from Blenheim were fined $20,000 each for failing to wear helmets on their quad bikes, and failing to ensure that others using the bikes wore helmets. See a press article here.
At first blush, this might seem like ‘PC gone mad’, but farms, as workplaces, are caught under the same health and safety legislation as other workplaces.
While there is no specific law covering helmet use on quad bikes, the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 requires farmers (as employers) to take “all practicable steps” to prevent both employees and visitors from being harmed in the ‘workplace’, i.e. the farm. (Note that this Act is getting revamped in 2015, and the new standard will be “reasonably practicable” steps.)
WorkSafe NZ is the government’s health and safety enforcement body. Its view is that, in relation to farm quad bikes, “practicable steps” include following the manufacturers’ operating instructions. (see http://www.business.govt.nz/worksafe/information-guidance/national-programmes/quad-bike-safety/reducing-accidents-on-quad-bikes). All manufacturers say helmets should be worn.
To ensure farmers are complying with the law, they must take proactive steps to ensure helmets are worn (going beyond merely providing helmets). These steps might include:
Communicating with employees about the requirement to wear helmets, and advising them of the potential consequences, including reminding employees that they also have a duty under the Act to keep themselves and others safe.
Putting clauses in employment agreements requiring employees to wear a helmet, and to ensure any passengers are using helmets. The agreement can state that non-compliance with this requirement would be considered serious misconduct which could result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.
If employees fail to wear a helmet, treat it as serious misconduct, as seriously as if an employee had turned up drunk to work (although proper employment law processes would have to be followed before deciding to dismiss).
Apart from always wearing a helmet, WorkSafe NZ has three other key messages for safe use of quad bikes:
Ensure that all riders are trained or experienced enough to ride a quad bike;
Choose the right vehicle for the job (take note of load limits, and other capabilities in the manufacturer’s operating instructions); and
Do not let children under 16 ride adult quad bikes.
Quad bike safety has become a major national focus over the last few years because of the high accident rate – quad bikes are responsible for 850 injuries every year, and are involved in 28% of all work related farm deaths.
We are seeing a marked rise in health and safety inspectors cracking down on farmers in relation to lack of helmet use – in the year ending June 2013, 60% of all written warnings and improvements notices issued by inspectors were due to quad bike riders not wearing helmets. The fines may be sizable, as the Blenheim case shows.