FARMERS who are struggling to comply with the State's new work, health and safety laws and still efficiently run their businesses was one of issues raised at the recent Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) of WA convention.
Speaking about the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 (WHS Act) which came into effect in March last year, WorkSafe WA deputy commissioner Sally North fielded questions from members of the audience, concerned with how the new legislation was impacting the workflow of farmers and other people working within the agricultural sector.
The difficulties for farmers being required to ensure safety inductions are completed by contractors or any person conducting work on their properties to protect themselves from being prosecuted under the new act if any injury or death was to occur, formed a large part of the discussion.
Irwin farmer Sally O'Brien sought clarity from Ms North around her responsibilities under the new legislation and time consuming and onerous nature associated with ensuring her business is complying with the act, giving specific reference to the work being completed by shearing contractors on her property.
"In terms of contractors coming onto your property, we happen to be shearing at the moment...we have a full contract team coming, so that's 8-10 people in the shed every day and as the law reads we should be inducting every person," Ms O'Brien said.
"We are fortunate we live close to town so we don't have a problem getting shearers, but over that three-week period that we're shearing we would never have the same 10 people two days in a row, so theoretically I should sit down and do an induction with each new person who comes into the shed each morning instead of starting shearing at 7am.
"They also have to get an 80pc pass rate, which for some of them would be probably quite challenging...so how long do we delay starting?
"I've asked the contractor to complete that induction on behalf of his entire business, which he has done... I've also done the same thing with our livestock carrier - is that sufficient?"
In response, Ms North said the manager of any contracting business conducting work on a farming property also shared the responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees and that farmers have "a lot of discretion" in terms of how safety inductions on their properties were delivered.
"Things like a pass rate and how you format that and whether there's a test and all those kinds of things - we don't set that...so that's actually discretionary, you can figure out what works for you and you can also figure out how to deliver if you want to deliver it in advance etc," Ms North said.
Suggestions floated at the convention included a work health and safety industry standard being introduced specifically for shearing contractors to take the pressure of farmers around the safety of those employees - and, more broadly, WorkSafe creating an agricultural compliant work health and safety induction for contractors who conduct work on any farming property across WA.
In the lead up to and following the implementation of the new act, another major concern for farmers was a change whereby an organisation or association's volunteers and members are now provided with the same protections as that of their paid workers, opening up liability for people who have a duty of care to their volunteer workers.
Heading into the bushfire season, PGA president Tony Seabrook said a better system was needed to encourage farmers and bushfire volunteers to keep attending fire grounds.
Since the act was introduced, he said many were fearful of being liable if something went wrong in an emergency situation.
"You have a hierarchy in the local bushfire brigades, you have fire control officers and then out of the parish there are subsets within that, and individual farmers step up and take on responsibility," Mr Seabrook said.
"They are highly regarded by their neighbours, they've got a responsibility - orders or commands have to be given quickly.
"We've lost a significant number of these fire control offers because they feel that they will be held liable for a rollover or an accident or something that occurs on that fire ground, so then we see the devolvement of control of the fire go back to bureaucracy - absolutely risk averse.
"So now we're having harvest bans on days where we shouldn't...we're losing volunteers and I'm one of them."
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