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Old dogs, new tricks: An exploration of age and its influence on health and safety in New Zealand’s primary sector.

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Executive Summary

Being a great food producing nation comes at the price of almost 20 lives per year in New Zealand. Agriculture records the highest number of deaths of all industries and improving these statistics has proved a challenge for successive regulatory bodies, industry groups and farmers themselves.

Almost a quarter of these deaths are those aged in their 60s and when combined with the number of workers over the age of 70 the group makes up almost half of all fatalities on-farm.  It raises the question of what influence one’s age has on health and safety behaviours and outcomes?

This report endeavours to uncover at what age people are being fatally injured, how they are being fatally injured and if attitude towards health and safety is varied across age groups. This report considers the 154 deaths on New Zealand farms between 2011 and 2018, and the views of five WorkSafe inspectors and 76 farmers aged between 19 and 73. It also takes a look at past research and reporting on health and safety progress and prohibition in New Zealand.

The research uncovers a challenge to all in the rural health and safety system; that when farmers are at their most experienced and perceived to be most adept at assessing risk they are also being fatally injured in the highest numbers. And while experience reigns high at this age, so do a decrease in cognitive ability, physical limitations, overestimation of ability and a decrease in responsibility as farmer’s face mortality.

Leadership, education and a sense of responsibility should be encouraged from a young age in order to create sustained generational change. And by looking at the gaps in knowledge and approach; and focussing on motivating factors in certain age groups we can improve health and safety behaviour and outcomes on New Zealand farms.

As an industry, we now need to engage with those in their early career years to create sustained generational change, utilise the theme of responsibility in working to engage all farmers in health and safety and alert industry to the four factors this research considers contributing factors in older farmer fatalities.

Old dogs, new tricks: An exploration of age and its influence on health and safety in New Zealand’s primary sector.