Staying safe and productive

Keeping it real: Leading orchardists say good induction, regular training and equipment changes all helped keep workers safe and farms productive.

Orchardists are being urged to consider the link between safety and efficiency and how it can help their operations.

Fruit Growers Victoria has partnered with WorkSafe Victoria to highlight that safety and efficiency often go hand in hand.

FGV chair Mitchell McNab said no matter the size of the farm, any improvements helped keep everyone safe.

He said safety didn’t have to break the bank.

“Smaller scale changes to the picking and packing processes can have just as much of an impact on operations as buying the most advanced tractors or picking platforms,” Mr McNab said.

Ardmona’s Andrew Plunkett said it was often the most basic changes that kept everyone safe.

“We have inductions for all staff, which is probably the most important thing we’re constantly working to improve,” he said.

“It’s important that we continually update these inductions to make sure we have everything covered, from wearing a seatbelt on a forklift to making sure everyone is wearing helmets when they need them.

“It’s standard stuff, but it’s always these basic things you haven’t thought about that catch you out.”

Plunkett Orchards has also modernised its packing shed, working to minimise the amount of people inside, reducing noise and improving the layout of operations.

Simple changes, including well-marked pedestrian crossings and thinking about how people can move around the orchard more safely, have also had a major impact on efficiency.

Another Ardmona orchardist, Jake Anderson, said consistent training — and refreshing that training — was a must to keep everyone safe.

“You need to treat everyone like they have never used machinery and equipment before and you can’t cut corners — you can never assume a new worker knows what they’re doing until you show them,” Mr Anderson said.

“On a picker’s first day we work on their skills individually because we know it takes at least one full season for someone to understand the basics and feel comfortable with their work.

“We team up our pickers in the afternoons to help some of our newer staff as the day goes on.

“We also make sure our experienced workers are given refreshers because even the most experienced pickers might have gaps in their knowledge.”

Mr Anderson also understands the importance of updating equipment.

Moving from heavy steel ladders to light aluminium ones, with more stable frames, has improved pickers’ confidence and reassured him that his staff are safer.

The orchard introduced a new computer system that improves efficiency in chemical outputs and picker safety. The system identifies the type, amount, time and location of chemical use across the orchard.

This helps orchard staff identify recently sprayed sections and directs pickers to safer areas with a lower risk of harm from airborne chemical exposure.

Victorian farmers can find safety support for their operation and more farmer stories at: