WorkSafe concerned following rapid rise in fruit picking injuries

Source: 1News

A rapid rise of fruit picking injuries has caught the attention of WorkSafe, with the horticulture industry urged to make worker safety a priority.

Figures released to 1 NEWS show injuries from fruit picking have increased by over 50 per cent in three years as a labour force comes under extreme pressure.

For new recruits, orchard work can be tough.

“Everyone's quite mindful of that so it’s kind of like a progression so you just sort of ease into it,” one worker said.

Employer Ngai Tukairangi Trust is mindful of keeping their team safe.

“We can grow the best crop in the world but if we don’t have people on the ground to pick it, it’s worth nothing,” Ngai Tukairangi Trust’s Richard Pentreath said.

But across the industry, more are getting injured at an alarming rate.

Figures from ACC show a 52 per cent increase in the last three years for claims relating to fruit picking, up from 793 in 2018, to 1206 in 2020.

WorkSafe said the industry hasn't being doing enough to keep staff safe.

“Up to now, with the amount of risk and the amount of injury, we'd be saying no but we do know that they are putting a lot of effort in,” WorkSafe’s Al McCone said.

The trust has been working with apple orchards in Hawke's Bay to identify injury risks, with technology being seen as a possible solution.

“If people are picking from a moving platform and you are putting the apples behind you rather than putting them in a basket, then you are reducing the opportunity for there to be those stresses and strains,” McCone said.

As a sector, horticulture is growing at a rapid pace, but quality labour is still at a premium.

First Union said it can be a dangerous environment for inexperienced workers.

"With growth comes more demand and more pressure to get as much work done as possible and that lands on the workers who, you know, are feeling that on a day to day basis - pick more and pick more quickly," First Union's Anita Rosentreter said.

Pentreath said the trust tries to have "enough teams that we can rest people" and to stand down a team when necessary. 

Horticulture New Zealand, which works with the industry providing support and advocacy, have not responded to 1 NEWS despite repeated requests for comment on the issue.