WORKSAFE New Zealand commissioned the Nielson group to survey the NZ farmers. 

WORKSAFE New Zealand commissioned the Nielson group to survey the NZ farmers.  The report is referred to as Nielson (2018) Health and safety attitudes and behaviour survey.  Worker engagement and participation report 2017.

Four key findings that are worthy of comment and consideration:

  1. The Agricultural sector is lagging behind the other three high-risk sectors in terms of Health & Safety – forestry, construction and vehicle and machinery manufacturing.
  2. Agricultural workers place less emphasis on Health & Safety than workers in the other three high-risk sectors. Only one in four employees identified Health & Safety as one of their top three priorities while the employers considered Health & Safety as a top priority and a major business consideration.
  3. Agricultural workers and employers have a lower than average confidence in their knowledge of legal responsibilities and workers rights and legal obligations and how to comply than the other high-risk sectors.
  4. Fewer than half agricultural sector workers believe that they do not get strong encouragement from the employers to act safely, while the employers consider they are better than that!!. Some 63 per cent of the workers and 84 per cent of the employers agree that they are encouraged to come up with ideas to make the workplace safe.


The research paper provides some interesting insight into the agricultural sector and the views of the employers as well as the employees and their attitudes towards each other.  It was interesting to see that only 28 per cent of employees were provided with some formal training in the previous 12 months compared with 66 per cent in construction and 58 per cent in forestry.  This is supported by the disconnect in the results between skills training and reporting of serious harm and a near miss where the employer and the employee have differing views on what is actually taking place on the farm.

The employees continue to undertake risky behaviours such as working when tired or suffering from fatigue and is not surprising to note that 7 per cent admitted to working when hung-over or stoned!!  This is supported by the high number of employees that are tested positive for drugs on farms every year.  Taking short-cuts, carrying out tasks employees are not trained for and working with unsafe plant and equipment ranked far too high in the research paper.

The research asked a series of questions about how the employers and employees viewed WorkSafe and about the interaction with farmers.  The majority of employees and employers have little knowledge of WorkSafe, but a high percentage have seen or used WorkSafe material.  Our concern here is that WorkSafe is the regulatory body and is not an advisory body and that it does have some lines that appeared to be blurred.  A high percentage of farmers believe that WorkSafe is helping people understand about Health & Safety, but less than 50% agree that it is making any difference or is trustworthy or that it can work effectively with the rural sector.

Following interactions with WorkSafe, employers and employees believe they are more likely to talk about safety and use the right equipment.  There are, however, around 35 per cent of all employers (35,000 total farm units) are either not doing anything or have it on the “to-do” list. However the number of proactive employers is still too low. There have been several cases where hazards were identified and had not been managed and the fines in these cases were substantial.

The report covers a number of issues that generally show the agricultural sector lagging behind other high risk activities with an ambivalence to training and not taking the health and safety of employees serious.  The general comment is that people should learn to use their commonsense and be responsible for themselves.

It is time for farmers to step up and become proactive in their approach to health and safety on the farm.  AgSafe NZ is an independent firm of rural safety consultants that will prepare your individual health and safety policy and act as your health and safety representative.


Contact AgSafe NZ on 027-2872886 or email

About the author

James Findlay

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