Feds are fuming at safety inspectors – but the judge decided the size of the fines in quad bike case

Alf has a soft spot for the good folk at Federated Farmers, especially because they always send him an invitation to their pre-Christmas party in Wellington which he enjoys attending.

But he is not entirely sympathetic to their complaint that WorkSafe New Zealand is out of control for pursuing charges against a farming couple for failing to wear helmets on their quad bike.

An account of what happened can be found here at Stuff.

Marlborough farming couple has been fined $40,000 for not wearing helmets while riding their quad bikes.

Phillip Andrew Jones, 33, and Maria Anna Carlson, 30, were spotted by WorkSafe New Zealand inspectors riding a quad bike without helmets on a Havelock farm on multiple occasions since 2012.

The pair were absent from the Blenheim District Court when they were sentenced by Judge Tony Zohrab yesterday.

The court heard the pair, who have a share-milking partnership on the farm, were given multiple warnings by WorkSafe to wear helmets while on their quad bikes, but continued to be non-compliant.

So what does “multiple warnings” mean?

Let’s see: Jones was seen riding the quad bike without a helmet twice in 2012, before a written warning was issued to him in March 2013.

He was again warned about wearing helmets in August last year, before a prohibition notice was issued in October last year.

The order required that workers on the farm must stop riding quad bikes without helmets.

But in February this year Carlson was seen riding the quad bike without a helmet along with two young children who were also not wearing helmets.

The Stuff report tells us:

When she was interviewed by inspectors Carlson admitted she was riding the bike on both occasions, and that she knew the prohibition order was in place.

“Her reason for not wearing a helmet was because it was a little bit of a hassle,” Zohrab said.

She told them helmets were not necessary because she had identified areas of danger on the farm, he said. Jones walked away when inspectors tried to interview him.

“I think I have to be a bit cautious about the steps taken by Ms Carlson … I’m sure every farmer in New Zealand would identify themselves as a safe driver … but still 35 farmers come off their quad bikes every day,” Zohrab said.

Wearing helmets on quad bikes was a widely publicised issue because of the serious injuries and deaths caused by quad bikes each year, he said.

“It’s not rocket science, people should wear helmets to minimise the risk … the message needs to go out to employers in the work place that they need to take basically all reasonable steps to prevent injury and potentially death.”

Well, yeah.

But it is a bloody hassle.

Alf wouldn’t bother each time he hopped on the machine.

WorkSafe nevertheless had sounded a warning and were unforgiving.

And so…

Jones faced two charges of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure no other person was harmed at work while riding a quad bike.

Carlson faced a charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure her own safety by wearing a helmet, and one of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of others.

They were fined $10,000 on each charge.

The feds are furious.

Their Northland chairperson, Roger Ludbrooke told Radio NZ he was gobsmacked by the fines and said Worksafe is out of control.

But it is not so clear whether he is pissed off with WorkSafe for mounting the prosecuting or with the size of the penalty.

He said WorkSafe needs to have its wings clipped for pursuing the charges.

But he also said:

“A repeat drunk driver with three previous convictions has a maximum fine of $6000,” he said.

He can’t blame WorkSafe for the size of the fines.

And Alf can’t recall a repeat drunk driver with three previous convictions having a maximum fine of $6000.

He can recall the judge firing a warning shot about how helmetless quad bike riders might be treated not so long ago in Marlborough and many in the industry saying they were dumbfounded by the $15,000 fine imposed then on herd manager Rangi Holmes.

The WorkSafe mob had prosecuted Holmes under the Health and Safety in Employment Act for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure his own safety and that of his passenger after inspectors repeatedly saw him riding a quad bike while carrying children without wearing helmets.

It was believed to be the first time someone had been convicted for carrying a passenger on a work quad bike.

On that occasion a Northern Hawke’s Bay farmer, James Brownlie, said that considering the prior warnings a fine probably was warranted for not wearing a helmet but $15,000 was out of proportion.

Brownlie said it was not practical to avoid taking passengers on quad bikes.

The interesting thing is that it is farmers far from Marlborough who do the griping.

What do Marlborough farmers have to say (other than those who have been stung by the hefty fines)?


2 Responses to Feds are fuming at safety inspectors – but the judge decided the size of the fines in quad bike case

  1. OlderChas says:

    This is crazy! Of the quad bike injuries recorded – how many have been head injuries? Most reports I have seen of quad bike deaths or injuries have been a result of roll-overs and bikes landing on top of riders and causing torso crushing injuries. How come there are not ridiculously high fines for not wearing body armour or using outrigger wheels to stop roll-overs? Labour Department gone bloody mad!

  2. What’s next???

    Seat belts???

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