Recent news that WorkSafe NZ has laid a charge against the Ministry of Social Development over the shooting at its Ashburton office in September have come as a surprise to some. However if they had been watching what is happening overseas they would have had a fair idea of what was coming.
The too powerful and too numerous NZ bureaucracy has a growth mechanism that goes like this. Find a problem to justify their existence. Look overseas for ideas on how to implement the solution to this problem. Set up the system in NZ.
In Queensland 10 years ago bureaucrats decided there was a problem with industrial accidents. Their solution in broad terms was to take legislation governing coal mine safety and adapt it to every other commercial system. The two key elements of the system were a designated site, and the appointment of a Site Safety Executive (or manager).
So they had two concrete elements to underpin prosecutions, the site, and the person responsible. This is basically the same system that applies in NZ and is under Minister Michael Woodhouse now penetrating the NZ farming industry. New legislation designates the farm as the site and the farmer or manager as the Site Safety Manager. Whoever fills this position is the target of the prosecutions that will no doubt follow when in future accidents occur on farms.
Here’s the crux of the issue. No matter what the circumstances of the accident, even if the employee has violated any number of safety codes to cause the accident, the Site Safety manager will be prosecuted. Whoever nominates for this position is putting their head in a noose. They will bear responsibility for every accident that occurs at the “site” even if they’re not even present on the site at the time of the accident.
Its no small thing. If an accident happens on your farm, you will be investigated by team of bureaucrats, you will need to give statements probably recorded on video, you will need legal representation, and it will cost you big money if you seek to defend. Many of the charges are serious, with “grievous bodily harm” being very frequent in Queensland. Many small business people plead guilty because they can’t afford the legal costs of a defence. $50K to $100K fines or greater are usual.
The legalities of the scheme are of course heavily weighted in favour of the bureaucracy, and give scant regard to traditional principles of liberty. Teams of marauding “safety inspectors’ are empowered to make random visits to “sites” and conduct intrusive and detailed investigations. (in actuality suspicionless searches) If it happens on your farm you can bet they will find some violation.
There have been over 800 prosecutions in Queensland since 2007, with fines totaling close to $23 million. You can see a summary of the cases here.
I’m surprised to read reports that NZ farmers are welcoming the govt’s moves to implement this scheme here. They obviously have no idea of what they are letting themselves in for.