Northland agricultural workers are too scared to voice concerns about poor health and safety practices, making many farms unsafe, the Council of Trade Unions warn.
Northland agricultural workers suffered 46 serious workplace accidents in the last five years, of which four were fatal, show figures from the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry.
Nationally, there were more than 1760 serious agricultural accidents since 2008 - 75 resulting in death - and the sector has one of the highest accident rates in New Zealand, along with manufacturing, forestry and construction.
CTU president Helen Kelly said farm owners made too many excuses when it came to employee health and safety.
"They want to talk about training and they want to talk about culture and they want to talk about drugs. But nobody wants to really investigate what are the working conditions of these workers and do they have a voice?"
Ms Kelly said New Zealand's agriculture accident rate would not change until workers were given proper support, and felt comfortable raising concerns about unsafe working conditions.
Next month, Northland Coroner Brandt Shortland will hold inquests into three farm-related quad bike deaths, which happened in 2010. Arapohue farmer and builder Carlos Mendoza, 52, Marua farmer Jack McInnes, 64, and Suzanne Claudia Ferguson, 62, died after quad-bike accidents on farms within six weeks of one another.
Northland Federated Farmers provincial president Matt Long said accidents were part of farm life.
"You do need to be aware that farming is an outdoor occupation where you're working with machinery and unpredictable livestock."
Fatigue, mental stress and depression all contributed to increased accident risk. "One of the leading factors [in accidents] would be where people are in a rush and they neglect to take their normal precautions or take shortcuts ... and then they find themselves in a much worse position with a possible serious injury shortly afterwards," Mr Long said.
But he urged concerned workers to speak to their employer.
Failing this, they should contact the Government's Labour service or the Federated Farmers association.
Nearly 60 per cent of fatal agriculture accidents since 2008 involved farm vehicles such as tractors and quad bikes.
Farm vehicles were also involved in nearly a third of all serious agricultural accidents during this period.
Agricultural serious harm notifications for Northland:
- 2012: 9
- 2011: 5
- 2010: 8
- 2009: 8
- 2008: 12
- 2012: 0
- 2011: 1
- 2010: 3
- 2009: 0
- 2008: 0