Lifting the bar on health and safety
While some in the kiwifruit industry are very aware of health and safety new and future software solutions might be able to help others come up to speed.
New software solutions are popping up all the time to improve health and safety on orchards. But a lack of centralisation of data makes it hard for adoption to gain real momentum, according to Brad Stevens.
He is now fruit quality and inventory manager at Apata Group. Recently he completed a Kelloggs Rural Leadership Course and for his project posed the question, Can we improve health and safety on kiwifruit orchards using software solutions?
“Slowly the industry and orchardists are becoming more aware of responsibilities and making incremental improvements,” he said.
Following the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) and a quad death on-orchard two years ago the New Zealand kiwifruit industry had begun improving health and safety practices and there had been a proliferation of software solutions. New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) commissioned Beca to research the various solutions that are available and assess their suitability for the kiwifruit industry. A table comparing 12 different products was published in February.
Stevens said there appeared to be significant disparity between those managing health and safety well and those who were not. Eurofins sought a list of risks from all NZ kiwifruit orchards before the 2017 harvest but on completion of harvest 45 percent of orchards had not provided this.
“As an industry with 2600 growers there is a significant challenge to reach out to them and the associated businesses and people and lift the bar on health and safety practices.”
He completed a literature review in which he explored diffusion of innovations and the innovation decision process. Individuals can fall into one of five categories ranging from being innovative, early adopters, early majority, late majority or laggards.With health and safety there appeared to be a wide range of philosophies ranging from those who were oblivious to their responsibilities to those who not only recognised them, believed good practices were more productive and saw it was all about staff returning home safe from work.
He interviewed 15 stakeholders from a cross section of the kiwifruit industry, representing growers, contractors and packhouses to investigate the current state of health and safety. He also explored the industry’s appetite for adoption of software solutions, how these could be beneficial over paper systems and perceived barriers to adoption.
Five of the people he interviewed were already using a software solution to manage on-orchard health and safety to various extents. Two thirds didn’t use them and none had a fully electronic solution. Reasons were lack of awareness or being unable to identify a suitable system that met their needs, and there was a view that paper systems would remain to some extent.
Asked to describe health and safety for their orchard or business three key themes came through, but the priority with which these were seen varied greatly.
“Keeping people safe was a key priority, identifying and mitigating risks and finally compliance,” he said.
“It appears that people generally grapple with which is more important to them, the fundamental keeping people safe or meeting compliance requirements to ensure that they are protected should an incident occur.”
Overwhelmingly machinery was identified as the number one risk with rabbit holes, wires, people and chemicals also identified.But it was generally felt that the orchard environment was low risk. There appeared to be a higher perception of risk at harvest time, but several commented that postharvest operations had some good systems in place.
“Many contractors and packhouse operators felt that it was difficult to get growers to buy into improved health and safety suggestions due to the competitive nature of their business and a fear that growers may change providers if something was pushed on them,” he said.
“There was a concern that many people were not taking health and safety seriously and that ensuring that processes were followed was a challenge.”
The respondents were asked to identify with one of the five groups from innovator through to laggards.
“Most interviewees classified themselves being innovators or being early adopters at 67 percent,” he said.
Asked why they gave reasons such as “always strive to be at the front”, “proactive” and “don’t hesitate to give it a go”.They were then asked to rank on a scale of one to 10 health and safety for their orchard or business.
“Responses ranged from four to nine with an average rating of seven,” he said.
“Without exception all responses acknowledged that they still had some work to do. Interviewees felt that they were making a genuine effort and that health and safety had become more of a priority recently.”
All interviewees identified themselves as having better health and safety systems in their own orchard or business than that of the general industry. Common themes were “growers have not got to grips with this yet” and a view they were too reliant on post-harvest. There were challenges with the older generation getting them to break away from the “she’ll be right” mentality.
Many said the main reason for lack of adoption was they had not found a suitable system or a lack of awareness of the software solutions available.
“There was a clear view that KGI and postharvest operators were the best avenues to improve awareness of software solutions to growers.”
Asked about the most important aspects of a health and safety system for their orchard they ranked being easy to use. Identifying and communicating risks was also important as was meeting compliance requirements.
They believed electronic systems were more accessible to those who needed access which would lead to improved reporting and compliance, and live data would allow notification of entry and exit. They saw the average age of growers as the most significant barrier to adoption, closely followed by the “she’ll be right” culture and technical ability. Cellphone coverage was considered a barrier despite many technology solutions claiming to have online / offline capability.
All interviewees but one could see the benefits of a centralised solution and were supportive as they felt it would make it easier for everyone and reduce duplication.
“One interviewee who has built their own electronic system went as far as saying that they would ditch their own system if the right industry solution was available and this benefited the industry.”
They would rather have a single comprehensive system, but would sacrifice this over adopting best of breed systems. Just 20 percent felt so long as a single comprehensive system met minimum compliance needs they didn’t need the best available.
Asked if they would have buy-in for use of an electronic health and safety solution from staff and/or contractors 87 percent said there would be, but work would be required. Some felt contractors would be more difficult and they would need to sell the reasons for the change. The remaining 13 percent felt there would be some rebellion as contractors tended to be lax.
A little over half believed that an electronic health and safety system would improve the management of systems and saw this as one of the primary reasons for adopting it. The remainder didn’t consider it would improve the status quo. Their reactions ranged from feeling they were so small that they were intimately aware anyway, to concerns around adoption and a reliance on people to follow the process being little different to now.
There were 67 percent who believed that it would reduce administration, while some said there was little time spent on administering health and safety now, so any reductions were not significant.
Managing and interacting with visitors and/or contractors was a primary driver.
“There was often an acknowledgement that contractors and visitors have gone under the radar with poor communication and there was an awareness that this was an area that needed to be improved,” he said.
“It appears that we are only just moving into the critical phase where the early adopters are starting to see the fruits of the innovators.”
All those who had an electronic system said this had improved this area of their business.
A little over half felt electronic health and safety systems would or have improved health and safety due to an improved awareness or simply lifting the bar. The remainder felt there was little effect due to the experience of their staff, electronic systems being no more than a tool and culture and compliance being the drivers rather than electronic systems.
When asked how much they would be prepared to pay per year for an electronic health and safety solution some said they would need to do a cost benefit analysis while others were prepared to pay up to several thousand dollars depending on the size of their business.
Stevens said it was concerning that several contractors and packhouse operators felt they could not push growers too hard to improve health and safety issues identified due to the competitive nature of the industry.
“This clearly demonstrates that the industry health and safety culture has some way to go,” he said.
It was suggested that younger people were more aware of expectations and ways to manage health and safety. If growers themselves were focused achieving buy-in, culture change could be lead from the top.
“Potential adopters need to be convinced that software solutions will make their life easier and give them peace of mind,” he said.
“They need to have a positive experience and need the product to be dumbed down to its simplest level, they need to be able to give it a go and find ways that it can work for them and finally they need to get positive feedback from all stakeholders. It appears that we are only just moving into the critical phase where the early adopters are starting to see the fruits of the innovators.” It was critical that the industry’s health and safety practices continued to evolve to support the industry’s ongoing profitability and growth. A positive health and safety culture needed to go hand and hand with any software solution for it to be successful. And the culture needed to be led by example and given regular reinforcement so that instead of workers reacting to safety incidents, they practice safety because they want to do it, then become interdependent so every employee is looking out for others.
“This work will need to be led from industry groups such as Zespri and NZKGI and will need to be well structured and multifaceted to be most effective.”
Several interviewees were working very closely with the developers of solutions to further develop them to meet their needs and had negotiated a “deal”, supporting the concept that farmers and researchers can collaborate over time for improved outcomes.
“There is a view that no single solution can meet everyone’s needs, and stakeholders should be free to choose, but that sharing would reduce duplication and result in better safety outcomes.
“Systems need to be cost effective, but cost can be balanced against ease of use, meeting compliance and even considered an insurance policy,” he said.
“Early adopters need to be supported through the critical phase.”
“Managing and interacting with visitors and/or contractors was a primary driver.”
Brad Stevens – a wide range of philosophies amongst kiwifruit industry players.