21 Aug 2015

Workplace safety plans open can of worms

6:22 am on 21 August 2015

The Workplace Relations Minister is getting a ribbing over plans to label worm farming and mini-putt as high-risk, but not sheep, beef and dairy farming.

Under the controversial Health and Safety Reform Bill any workplace that falls into the high-risk category will be required to have a health and safety officer.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

During Parliament's Question Time on Thursday, Labour MP Sue Moroney asked Michael Woodhouse what made a worm farm more dangerous than a cattle farm.

The Minister replied that Ms Moroney was being trivial.

"The member does trivialise the 11 deaths in the category of other livestock farming, of which worm farming is one - there were 11 people killed at work and more than a thousand serious injuries"

The category of 'Other Livestock Farming' includes 15 different types of farming:

  • Alpaca farming
  • Bird breeding (except poultry or game birds)
  • Cat breeding
  • Crocodile farming
  • Dairy goat farming
  • Dog breeding
  • Emu farming
  • Fur skin animal (including possum and ferret) farming
  • Goat farming
  • Livestock raising n.e.c.
  • Ostrich farming
  • Pet breeding
  • Rabbit farming
  • Snake farming
  • Worm farming

Labour MP Grant Robertson said having sheep, beef and dairy farming out of the high-risk category, but alpaca farming and mini-putt in, was ridiculous.

"If it wasn't so tragic it would be hilarious. This is a farce, do you realise a high-risk industry according to this minister is curtain-installation, but demolishing a building isn't?

"I'm not very good at putting up curtains, and actually it's probably quite high risk when I do it, but it shouldn't be in a list of high risk industries."

Mr Woodhouse was asked how closely he had looked at the categories before announcing them.

"Well, not as closely as the media clearly have. What's important to me is that we get a level of description of industries that is an appropriate reflection of risk overall.

"Yes, there'll be some outliers, in the same way that in organisations, there are roles that are low risk and high risk. I think we've landed this in the right place."

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said from time to time niche farming industries did have incidents, and that needed to be taken into consideration.

"I know that there is some concern out there among the New Zealand public, they think, 'well, how can a worm farm be categorised as dangerous?'

"Obviously the data proves that there are some concerns on these particular worm farms.

"I know that alpacas do bite - and I have heard of colleagues that have been bitten by alpacas and obvioulsy they do hurt!"

Ms Moroney said there was a simple way to deal with the situation.

"Leave it up to the workers, the workers should decide whether they need health and safety representation or not.

"If the Government stayed with that, because that was what the law said when it first went into select committee, then they wouldn't be suffering the problem that they've got with the shambles that worm farms are more dangerous than cattle farms."

The bill was still being debated clause by clause and would be back before the house next week.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs