Opinion: Nanny state National's 'high risk' worm farms

Opinion: Nanny state National's 'high risk' worm farms

A question for the National Government: what is dangerous about a worm farm?

In a ridiculous move, the Government has classified worm farming as a "high-risk" industry.

This is what's known as 'Nanny State gone mad'.

What makes this even more ridiculous is the Government has deemed sheep, beef and dairy farming low-risk.

Yes, under the proposed law worm farming is listed alongside mining and forestry as high-risk, but most other farming is low-risk.

It simply does not make sense. In the past five years there have been 104 agriculture and farm deaths, but not a single one in worm farming.

And it gets worse - some other high-risk industries are alpaca farming, bird breeding, cat breeding, dog breeding, possum and  ferret farming, ostrich farming and even "native orchid gathering".

The definitions were part of changes made to the health and safety legislation changes put through by Workplace and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse yesterday.

This sad joke shows extremely poor lawmaking, and is particularly bizarre given National is supposedly anti-nanny state.

So how did this worm farm botch-job happen?

Well, the legislation is incredibly complex for starters - obviously too complex. I feel sorry for any boss or worker that has to get their head around this.

The key part of the legislation is the appointment of health and safety representatives in workplaces. This is a staff member who will be given training and some power to investigate complaints in order to keep the bosses in line if there are problems on site.

All workplaces with more than 20 employees will be required to have the representatives if staff want one. Workplaces with fewer than 20 people will also be required to have a representative if they are deemed high-risk.

Farmers argued it was too onerous and National bowed to the pressure. And this is where the worm farm stuff-up happened.

To get farmers off the hook, Mr Woodhouse introduced a formula to define what was high-risk.

High-risk is any industry with a fatality rate greater than 25 per 100,000 workers between 2008 and 2013, or a serious injury rate of more than 25 per 1000 workers.

Under the legislation, this is applied to what's called the Australia and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC).

There are classifications for sheep, beef cattle and grain farming, and one for dairy cattle farming. Because of the high numbers of people employed in these sectors, they obviously haven't met the death and injury rate to be high-risk, meaning National could keep farmers out of it.

But the problem for Mr Woodhouse is there is also a category called "other livestock". This includes the likes of pig farming and is where worm farming comes in.

His office says there have been about 10 deaths in the category (they are unable to say where but have blamed pig farming) and that means everything gets caught: worms, alpacas and ferrets.

This is a shocker. If National wanted to free farming from this law, so be it. But at least do it properly. Don't let dairy, sheep and beef off scot-free and crack down on worm farmers.

The minister's office argues there is actually no change from the current law that would capture worm farming too. This is a pathetic argument - if the law is being set up to get most of farming off the hook, then National should help worm farming too.

There is no excuse for this. The law has gone through the full process including two select committees thanks to the Judith Collins-led revolt.

The proposed changes initially looked good - small mining and forestry operators would be subject to the requirements but other low-risk businesses like a corner dairy would not.

But along the way there has been too much lobbying and haggling, and too many deals and workarounds - the legislation has got out of control.

Long story short, the proposed law is too complex, and all the fiddling by National has created some perverse outcomes.

It would be funny if it were not so serious. This law was part of the response to the Pike River disaster. The Government's bizarre crackdown on worm farming brings shame to the 29 men who lost their lives.

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