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Plan properly before farm burn-offs
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Plan properly before farm burn-offs

17 June 2016

Farmers are being urged to thoroughly manage risks during burn-offs after a company was fined $72,000 and ordered to pay reparation of $107,000 following the death of an employee.

The employee died when he became trapped by fire in a gully during a burn-off on a 13,500-hectare high country station near Cromwell on 3 September 2014.

At the Alexandra District Court today, Northburn Limited was sentenced on a charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of an employee.

WorkSafe New Zealand’s investigation found that Northburn Limited did not have an effective system for managing health and safety, and there was no documented plan in place for a burn-off - considered a high-risk task.

WorkSafe’s Chief Inspector, Keith Stewart, says there were numerous practicable steps Northburn Limited could have taken to prevent the death of the employee. “There were various methods available to Northburn Limited, including using a sufficient number of trained people to carry out the burn-off. It is considered industry best practice that both sides of a gully should be burnt simultaneously.

The company did not identify a safe area for employees to retreat to, or an escape route, or that the fire was lit from an “anchor point”, a safe area to start a fire from. There was also no adequate communication system, or a person acting as a lookout. The victim was not provided proper personal protective equipment.

The day of the victim’s death was the second day he had been involved in a burn-off - he had no training for the task and he was at times left unsupervised.

“This incident is a tragic reminder that planning and the use of good information is essential for a safe and effective burn-off,” says WorkSafe’s Agriculture Programme Manager, Al McCone.

“For many farmers, burn-offs are a useful and routine tool to encourage growth. What’s important is thinking about the risks and thinking about what to do about managing those risks.

“There is a range of guidance on burn-offs including The Landowners Guide to Land Clearing by Prescribed Burning from the national rural fire authority. There is also other information available on the Safer Farms website.

I also encourage farmers to get in touch with their local rural fire authority. They can provide advice and information specific to their area. Rural fire authorities do not charge for this service”.

Managing health and safety: A guide for farmers has a section on safe burn-offs – to read the guide go to

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