A never-ending journey
Businesses can never let down their guard when it comes to workplace health and safety.
A range of health and safety initiatives are to be put in place at NZHothouse as the result of an incident in July 2016 where workers were exposed to carbon monoxide.
Director Simon Watson (pictured) said it was a sharp reminder that businesses could never let down their guard and that the assessment of the workplace was a never-ending journey. “Failure to adequately identify and deal with a potential hazard resulting in a staff member and two contractors being harmed,” he said.
“We regret that our system failure allowed this to occur.”
Two Airtech workers were cleaning an evaporator unit in a chiller, using an LPG forklift operated by an NZHothouse worker at its Karaka packhouse, south of Auckland. After two hours, during which the forklift was working for about half the time, one Airtech worker felt ill, stopped working and an ambulance was called. The Airtech worker and the NZHothouse worker continued working for about 20
minutes after which they experienced similar symptoms and both fainted. The Fire Service measured carbon monoxide levels in the chiller at 500 parts per million (ppm), the highest reading a detector can make. The workers were treated in hospital with two receiving specialist medical care at Devonport Naval Base to undergo decompression.
Both companies were charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and were both granted enforceable undertakings which the affected employees were supportive of. Airtech was found not to have identified or mitigated the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in the chiller, and NZHothouse had not developed and implemented a safe system of work for use of LPG forklifts or developed and authorised an adequate contractor management system.
WorkSafe chief operating officer, Phil Parkes, said the businesses had learned from their mistakes and developed solutions and initiatives that wouldn’t just prevent a similar occurrence in their businesses but would also help others. NZHothouse expressed regret that the incident occurred, acknowledging that carbon monoxide poisoning could be fatal.
It immediately took remedial action to address the work practices that led to the incident. LPG forklifts were replaced with electric forklifts and a carbon monoxide detection system was installed in the cool store. It implemented a lock out and tag out process for workers and trained them in its use. It also provided additional health and safety training, developed and printed safety awareness posters, put in place an interactive health and safety information station, produced an emergency procedure and first aid plan and started weekly safety walkabouts to find any risks that required immediate attention.
Under NZHothouse’s enforceable undertaking the company and its related company, KPH Produce, committed to providing amends in the form of payment, support and Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) top-up to the victims >
It also is offering staff one paid safety day to attend a course, conference or safety event, conducting an in-house safety day for all staff and running a half-day mock incident drill to not only test NZHothouse’s system but also assist emergency services to test theirs in a live environment.
As well as undertaking an initial audit assessment of OHSAS 18001 or ISO 450001 international health and safety system management standards by Telarc a full audit will be carried out in the next six months.
NZHothouse has also agreed to carry out activities to promote the objects of the safety legislation that will deliver benefits to the wider sector. These will involve commissioning a report on the benefits of worker safety in horticulture by implementing literacy and numeracy initiatives. The aim will be to identify the gap between workers’ current literacy and numeracy skills and those required of workers to meaningfully engage with key health and safety concepts and will involve four phases.
The first will be creating a literacy and numeracy needs analysis tool to identify competencies workers need to have to identify hazards and risks in their jobs and communicate when conditions change. They should be able to use appropriate language to express their thoughts and views on health and safety matters and should have or be taught active listening skills to consider the views of other workers, representatives and management. Workers should understand risk management strategies and participate in health and safety systems by reporting near misses, incidents and accidents.
NZHothouse also undertook to develop a pre and post-evaluation tool so management could canvas worker engagement and participation in health and safety.
The second phase will be applying the tool to randomly selected groups of workers throughout the country as well as 10 of its workers with them all completing a short, written assessment. The gaps in worker numeracy and literacy will be assessed so that the learning outcomes to address those gaps can be developed. The third phase will be workplace literacy provider, Edvance, developing and delivering 40 hours of literacy and numeracy training for the 10 NZHothouse workers in two groups in two-hour sessions held every week for 20 weeks. The information gathered will be reported along with recommendations, strategies and learnings other companies could use. The final phase will be promoting those findings to the wider industry through an article in NZGrower and The Orchardist and a presentation to be made to next year’s HortNZ Conference.
The company will also create a horticulture safety intern programme in support of the Franklin community. A local school leaver will be offered a six-month internship to be trained, mentored and supported in learning about health and safety in the horticulture industry. The aim is to make this a gateway into health and safety for a young person, particularly
The programme would provide an opportunity to engage with the wider NZ horticulture industry to create a better understanding of health and safety and improve outcomes which would ultimately improve accident statistics.
someone who would like to make their career in this area. They will be paid wages and attend training to gain a forklift license, a first aid certificate and an Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) national certificate in occupational health and safety (level three).
Horticulture New Zealand supported the enforceable undertaking as an alternative to prosecution. Its chief executive, Mike Chapman, said it believed the programme would provide an opportunity to engage with the wider NZ horticulture industry to create a better understanding of health and safety and improve outcomes which would ultimately improve accident statistics.
Watson said NZHothouse was appreciative that the enforceable undertaking process would allow it to work with its staff to help increase their understanding of the company’s health and safety systems and the important role they played.
“We are looking forward to sharing our learnings with the greater horticultural industry through the establishment of a meaningful training programme to assist workers and businesses to eliminate risk and operate in a genuinely safe working environment.”