Rural safety push welcomed in Bay

By Sam Boyer


Agricultural industries across the Western Bay of Plenty have welcomed a government plan aimed at curbing injuries and fatalities on farms and orchards.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson this week launched a plan to bring down the "unacceptable" number of workplace injuries in the sector.

Agriculture had one of the highest rates of workplace injuries and fatalities each year - double the average rate across all sectors. Department of Labour figures for 2011 showed there were 41 workplace deaths in the country last year, with 15 of those agricultural workers.

"People working in agriculture are exposed to a wide range of hazards. Agriculture is vital for New Zealand but it is also one of our most dangerous industries.

"On average, we lose one farmer every month, with a farmer injured every 30 minutes. That is unacceptable. There is no excuse for anyone to be put in danger, suffer serious injury or lose their life while on the job," Ms Wilkinson said.

On Thursday, a 61-year-old man was taken to Tauranga Hospital after a tractor flipped backwards on top of him.

The man was left wedged in his seat upside down but pulled himself free. He was taken by ambulance to Tauranga Hospital with head injuries.

Earlier this month, a 15-year-old boy working on a kiwifruit orchard in Paengaroa was crushed under a tractor, suffering a broken pelvis, broken legs and chest injuries. In February, a kiwifruit orchardist in Ohauiti died after a 15cm bolt flew from the orchard sprayer he was repairing and lodged in his head.

In January, a woman suffered an electric shock when her cherry picker struck a power line at an avocado orchard in Tauranga. She fell 6m to the ground, but walked away with only singed hair and a sore back. In October last year, an avocado worker was engulfed in flames after his cherry picker touched power lines in Matapihi.

The Government's action plan would include educational systems, such as work with ACC to improve and revise agriculture publications, the adoption of injury prevention systems and processes, and toolkits to help farmers to manage health and safety and employment matters.

John Schnackenberg, chairman of the Avocado Industry Council and the Avocado Growers' Association, said he supported the plan. "We are very supportive of any initiative that will improve our growers' awareness of their own health and safety on orchard, together with their responsibilities with respect to their workers and contractors.

"Fortunately, we are not aware of any fatalities through work-related injuries among avocado growers, their workers or contractors. However, we are aware of the odd accident occurring during harvest season by workers using horticultural elevated working platforms. The avocado industry is actively working with the Department of Labour ... to raise awareness of best practice," he said.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers chief executive Mike Chapman said the Labour Minister's announcement was positive. He said much of the action plan related to pastoral farming, but it would be beneficial to industries across the sector. "Our operations are different to pastoral. There's always potential for accidents anywhere but we are probably less risk. But anything to do with machinery is always a concern," he said.

Steve Bailey, branch chairman of Te Puke Federated Farmers, said as long as the new policies didn't infringe on current safety schemes, they would be desirable. "We welcome anything that'll improve safety ... as long as it's not doubling up on itself.

"You are not going to stop every single accident are you? They are going to occur. But we have to minimise them to the best we can."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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