David Kean

Rural Contractors NZ president

You may have seen this recent headline story: Tractor driver had worked almost 200 hours in the fortnight leading up to his death and followed a WorkSafe prosecution.

A court heard that In October 2016, a worker for a Waikato contracting company on harvesting operations on a farm in Pukekawa man had logged a 16.75 hour day before departing the farm on a tractor for home in preparation for the next day’s work. At 2.45am he crashed the tractor and died as a result of injuries sustained.

The worker had logged 197.25 hours in the fortnight leading up to his death. Fatigue was identified as the most likely cause of the accident.

The company had a health and safety document prepared earlier that year, identifying fatigue as a high rating hazard and outlined management steps including monitoring work hours and break times. As too often happens, it was not implemented.

As contractors we are caught in an awful bind. We operate getting much work done in what is often a constricted period of time. Even working from dawn to dusk is not always an option with weather often cutting our available time short.

We do our best to look after our farmer/land owner clients. But we also have to feel able to say that there is a limit to what we ask staff to do – or take on ourselves.

Sometimes the farmer has to say that. It’s a hard call for a farmer or a contractor when sometimes literally a year’s income can be at stake.

But who wants to face up to a grieving family or leave our own facing such a loss. We all know that there is a limit to how many hours we can work and keep performing at a high level. You cannot work 100 weeks and be functioning at your best.

As responsible rural contractors, part of what we need to do is set realistic expectations. Talk to farmers and say you can do a set number of hours but then it’s not worth the risk to them, you or your staff to push well past that.