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Health & Safety Reform Bill

Published: 28th August 2015

Author: Neil Dent, Gifford Devine

Published in: Rural e-Speaking | Issue #18

On 24 July, the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee reported back to Parliament on the Health and Safety Reform Bill. There are some modifications to the Bill that will be welcomed by farmers; we outline the significant changes below.

Of particular concern to the farming community was that the Bill, as originally introduced to Parliament, defined the whole of the farm as a workplace and, at s32, imposed on the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), that is the farmer, a duty of ensuring so far as reasonably practical, that “the workplace, the means of entering and exiting the workplace, and anything arising from the workplace, are without risk to the health and safety of any person”.

Federated Farmers’

Submission In its submission on the Bill, Federated Farmers made the point that it wasn’t reasonable or practicable to make a farmer who is a PCBU responsible for the health and safety of all people entering and exiting the farm. They noted that farms can span thousands of hectares, people often trespass on farms, farms are often alongside conservation areas and the public are often accustomed to access for recreational purposes, and that farms often host events such as school sports days, A & P Show events, field days and other community and recreational events. If the Bill was enacted in its original form, in order to protect themselves, farmers might have had no option but to deny access to the public.

Select Committee’s response

The Select Committee took account of those submissions in two ways:

  1. By amending s15, which is the main definition of workplace so that the definition is now a place where work is being carried out or is customarily carried out for a business or undertaking. The bolded words were added by the Select Committee to make it clear that a workplace could be temporary.
  2. The second and probably more important change for the farmer is the change to s32, which is the section that imposes the duties on the PCBU. A new subsection 1(B) has been added that says:

(a) “For the purposes of s(1) if the workplace is a farm the duty owed by the PCBU under that subsection.

(a) applies only in relation to the farm buildings and any structure or part of the farm immediately surrounding the farm buildings as are necessary for the operation of the business or undertaking;

(b) Does not apply in relation to any other part of the farm unless work is being carried out in that part at that time.”

One further change that would no doubt give some comfort to the farming community is an amendment to the following section, (s33), which makes it clear that a PCBU who manages or controls fixtures, fittings or plant in a workplace does not owe a duty under that subsection to any person who is at the workplace for an unlawful purpose, such as a trespasser.

Domestic farm buildings not included

The main thrust of the changes are that farm buildings that are customarily used for the farming business, for example, milking or woolsheds, yards and on-farm processing facilities will have the duties under the Act attached to them. The farm house and other domestic buildings, however, are now not included and the farmer’s duties as a PCBU only arise in other areas of the farm where farm work is actually being carried out at the time.

So, the good news is that the Select Committee has acknowledged the uniqueness of the farm as both a workplace and a home and, also, that in many cases farms are used for recreational, sporting and community uses.

However, you still must be aware of the major implications of this health and safety legislation on your farm business. Care will need to be taken to ensure that the working part of areas of the farm are kept well separate from some of the other uses to which farms may be put.

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