Horticulture visits put safety in the spotlight

WorkSafe, Department of Health and Labour Hire Authority inspectors have visited almost 40 orchards across the Shepparton region as part of a co-ordinated approach to workplace safety.


Inspectors visited growers to ensure they were complying with occupational health and safety regulations, staying COVID-safe and supporting vulnerable workers as part of the three-day operation late last month.

The visits were designed to help growers have a safe harvest and give workers confidence that workplaces were meeting their obligations.

WorkSafe inspectors issued 91 improvement notices to duty holders at 18 of the 22 properties inspected.

WorkSafe Regional Operations Director Kate Maheras said while it was disappointing so many employers continued to put themselves and their workers at risk, many of the improvements required were small changes that would deliver big safety benefits.

Among the most common safety issues were a lack of roll-over protection and helmets worn on quad bikes and missing or broken guarding on tractor power take-offs and other machinery.

"To growers' credit the visits were on the whole well received and we have had positive feedback from the industry," Ms Maheras said.

"The visits were an opportunity to talk to employers about practical risk controls, and their responsibility to take all reasonable steps to ensure that anyone who comes into their workplace is not exposed to risks to their health and safety."

Department of Health Compliance and Enforcement Commander Chris Webb said officers undertook 19 inspections as part of the co-ordinated effort, with the majority of issues around COVID safety worked through on site without the need for further compliance action.

Department of Health officers sighted a COVIDSafe plan at just over half of sites visited, while non-compliance with worker "bubbles", cleaning schedules, record keeping and COVID induction and training were among the other most common issues.

"We have been encouraged at how seriously business is taking its job of protecting the community at this time, but there is room for improvement," Mr Webb said.

"People should have confidence that everyone is trying to do the right thing. Considering the number of businesses visited, there has been a minority of instances where we have had to rely on issuing notices to bring about more COVID safe practices."

Labour Hire Licensing Commissioner Steve Dargavel said the Authority's focus during its 19 visits was on education and ensuring compliance, checking that providers had COVIDSafe plans, as well as looking at their licence status and conditions for labour hire workers.

"These site inspections were important because they helped identify providers that needed COVIDSafe plans. By working with growers and providers to make sure they have compliant COVIDSafe plans we're protecting regional communities and the harvest," he said.

"Our compliance and enforcement officers were well received by growers who provided information about their labour hire providers. We have also received positive feedback about the information session hosted in Shepparton leading up to the inspections."

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