Save recreational access plea by Federated Farmers and Fish & Game
Federated Farmers and Fish & Game are asking Parliament to ensure proposed health and safety legislation does not lead to restrictions on recreational access to farms and forests.
The Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill is presently being considered by the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee, which is due to report back on 24 July.
The bill is aimed at improving safety in all workplaces, including farms, but Federated Farmers and Fish & Game are concerned it will also inadvertently prevent people enjoying farms for recreation.
“We are all for making workplaces safer. New Zealand workers deserve nothing less,” said Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson.
“But there are growing fears this bill could put at risk long-cherished access across farms to rivers, lakes and mountains. This could well mean people are unable to go tramping, fishing or hunting, or even have a swim in the local swimming hole on a hot summer’s day”, Mr Johnson said.
Fish & Game has received numerous reports from outdoors enthusiasts who have been denied recreational access across farms because they believe WorkSafe has told the landowner the law requires everyone, including recreational visitors, to report to the farmhouse for a full hazard briefing and to sign a hazard identification form.
“Under the present law, this is not a legal requirement and the select committee is still considering any proposed changes. In the meantime, there is a lot of misinformation being spread by fee-charging consultants and farmers don’t know what to believe,” Bryce Johnson said.
“Farmers are telling Fish & Game staff they have “have had a guts-full” and find it simply easier to deny all recreational access,” he said.
“New Zealanders love their outdoor recreation and it would be a disaster if their ability to enjoy the countryside was restricted. However, the unfortunate reality is this bill is creating such a climate of fear that many farmers now think it would just be easier to prevent all access to their properties.
“Sadly this will only further distance the rural community from their urban cousins to the detriment of both”, Mr Johnson said.
Federated Farmers says it’s still encouraging farmers to make their land available for recreation but understands why some farmers may think it’s not worth the risk if the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill is not transparent on access safety responsibilities.
Federated Farmers’ Health and Safety spokesperson Katie Milne said she hopes when the Bill is reported back to parliament that it will make farmers’ obligations totally clear.
“I can understand why farmers threw up their hands in horror when they saw the bill’s first draft and looked around for ‘no trespassing’ signs to nail to their boundary fences,” she said.
“They were anxious they’d find themselves responsible for accidents they had nothing to do with, except it was on their property.”
“There is a culture of rural life in New Zealand and hunting and fishing is an integral part of it. The Bill doesn’t address this – it just assumes people on a farm are there for the farm business and imposes an excessive duty of care on the farm owner.
“That proposed responsibility includes family members and visitors whose activities have no connection to the business of farming and which have no impact on that business’s income.
“If the legislation isn’t straightforward then farmers will take the safe option and keep outdoors enthusiasts off land that both have enjoyed using for decades without incident – all just in case the farmer or owner gets prosecuted.
“In some cases, they may not know each time someone is on their land, so they can hardly be expected to warn them about any hazards on it,” Ms Milne said.
Federated Farmers and Fish & Game are urging select committee members to keep recreation in mind when considering the bill.
“The select committee needs to ensure the bill makes it totally clear that the current legal position on recreational access is unchanged,” Bryce Johnson said.
“New Zealanders have a long and proud tradition of enthusiastically enjoying outdoor recreation. Not only is such activity good for the body and soul, but it also plays an important role in bridging the gap between urban and rural communities,” he said.
Federated Farmers agrees.
“It would be a disaster if all that recreational and social benefit was suddenly thrown out the window because parliament failed to consider how a desirable and well-intentioned effort to improve workers’ safety would unwittingly prevent those same workers relaxing in the outdoors,” Ms Milne said.