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Vegetable growing

We are supporting South Australia’s vegetable growers with information addressing common hazards and incidents to help the horticulture industry best meet work health safety requirements and support sustainable improvement.

Our Farmers Guidebook provides easy-to-use work health and safety tools to support onsite self-assessment and management of hazards to prevent injuries at the workplace.

During peak periods, it is essential that the industry and labour hire companies verify their safety processes as there is often an influx of contract workers – students, backpackers and visa holders, many of whom are young, inexperienced or have a limited understanding of English.

Hazardous manual tasks

Manual tasks cover a wide range of activities, not all of which are hazardous. A hazardous manual task is one that requires a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal or thing involving one or more of the following:

  • repetitive or sustained force
  • high or sudden force
  • repetitive movement
  • sustained or awkward posture
  • exposure to vibration.

These factors can overload the body and lead to injury.

Examples of the most common risk factors encountered are handling heavy/awkward loads as well as repetitive movements and awkward postures. All risk factors are subject to variations across roles and tasks.

Source of the risks

Some common hazardous manual task risks in vegetable growing include:

  • the equipment or tools used (eg hand tools that are not appropriate for the task or are poorly maintained, making them difficult to squeeze and cut)
  • the type of load (heavy crates, unevenly loaded boxes)
  • the working environment (eg hot temperatures in glasshouses, exposure to chemicals, dust, and weather extremes)
  • systems of work, work organisation and work practices (eg repetitive tasks, inadequate breaks or task variety, unreasonable timeframes/workload).

Reducing the risk of injury

Workplace walk-throughs or inspections to identify hazards and consultation with your workers can be the most achievable way to reduce the risk of injury from hazardous manual tasks.

Minimising the risk

Once hazardous manual tasks have been identified and assessed, determine what you need to do to minimise the risk of injury.

Your first priority should always be to avoid/eliminate the risks entirely, if reasonably practicable. If this is not possible, manual tasks can be redesigned, modified, altered or substituted to minimise the risks.

This may involve a single control measure or a combination of two or more different controls, including:

Modifying the load – changing the nature, size, weight or number of items handled

  • Negotiate for goods supplied in large, awkward or heavy containers/bag/boxes to be provided in smaller sizes or weights or in more appropriate containers (eg replacing sacks with boxes/containers with built in handles or grips).

Modifying tools and equipment, and using mechanical aids

  • Ensure that the appropriate equipment (type, size and numbers) is available for use in manual tasks – consider using steps, platform ladders and various trolleys.
  • Automate pallet jacks and trolleys so that strenuous pushing/pulling is not required.
  • Provide height adjustable work benches to accommodate individual needs.

Changing the work environment

  • Provide anti-fatigue matting where workers stand for prolonged periods.
  • During the hotter months, consider having certain tasks performed during the cooler part of the day.

Changing the systems of work

  • Provide adequate rest breaks, task variety and rotation between tasks or work areas to enable workers to use different actions and postures.
  • Ensure appropriate workloads to the physical capacity of workers, resulting in a safe work rate.
  • Ensure appropriate staffing levels at peak time periods.
  • Review if working hours are appropriate for the types of manual tasks being completed.
  • Ensure all equipment is regularly inspected, serviced and maintained for continued ease of use.
  • Involve workers when selecting new equipment and, where possible, trial equipment prior to purchase.

Administrative controls

Administrative controls are the last line of defence and should not be used as the primary or only control for hazardous manual tasks. Administrative controls include:

  • providing training, information and supervision
  • developing and enforcing policies and procedures
  • signage

Training in manual tasks

The training of workers for manual tasks should include theoretical and practical components. Training should occur for all new workers and on a regular basis thereafter.

Theoretical training should cover your risk management approach. Workers should be able to:

  • identify hazardous manual tasks
  • assess the risk of injury from exposure to those hazards
  • determine what actions are needed to minimise the risk.

Workers should be identifying the potential for hazardous risks when faced with their usual work tasks; they should also know how to report hazards so that these can be addressed by management.

Task specific training might include:

  • effective working postures and exercises to reduce injury
  • how to select and use equipment
  • lifting, pushing/pulling, carrying and holding techniques.

More information on training requirements is available in the Code of Practice – Hazardous manual tasks.

Thermal comfort

High and low temperatures and humidity can affect the health and comfort of workers. Reduce the risks by:

  • using fans to increase airflow
  • educating workers on the symptoms of heat stress
  • providing cool water for workers and instructing them to drink small amounts frequently during and after working in hot conditions
  • providing sufficient and suitable rest breaks to either cool down or regain warmth
  • providing clothing and footwear suitable for the working environment eg waterproof footwear, protective gloves and jackets, sun protection, clothing that is not restrictive.