Te Puke kiwifruit worker hit by forklift loses leg

The man was employed by Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool Limited - New Zealand’s largest single-site kiwifruit and avocado packhouse.

A Bay of Plenty kiwifruit worker’s life “changed in one second” after a forklift accident at work led to his leg being amputated below the knee.

Two years on, workplace health and safety regulator WorkSafe says it dropped a charge against the man’s Te Puke employer after the kiwifruit industry “major player” committed to safety initiatives worth more than $500,000 in response to the incident.

In a statement, WorkSafe says the Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool employee was struck while walking behind a reversing forklift and had his left leg and foot run over on April 25, 2022. His foot was run over again when the driver moved the forklift forward.

The injuries meant his lower left leg was amputated below the knee.

Via a WorkSafe statement, the victim says his injury badly impacted his retirement savings because he planned to work for five or 10 more years, but has not been able to.

“My life changed in one second … Since then, everyday tasks like dressing, showering, and walking have become challenging.

“My mental health has been up and down, it is physically difficult for me to play with my grandchildren, and sometimes even lying in bed is painful.”

The man received reparations of about $123,000 from Trevelyan’s.

WorkSafe says Trevelyan’s – New Zealand’s largest single-site kiwifruit and avocado packhouse – was charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

In response to the incident, Trevelyan’s submitted an enforceable undertaking to WorkSafe – a legally binding voluntary agreement generally used as an alternative to prosecution.

The undertaking included safety initiatives worth more than $500,000, such as fitting an artificial intelligence pedestrian detection system to 40 forklifts, collaborating with the kiwifruit industry to spread the uptake of the technology, and investing in health and safety training across the business.

Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool Limited has installed AI technology on its forklifts to sense pedestrians. Pictured is a driver testing the technology.

It also included reparation to the victim, funding for the Amputee Society of Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Districts and funding scholarships for the Health and Safety Association of New Zealand.

WorkSafe has accepted the agreement.

The victim says he didn't want to tell his story in court but is “pleased to see Trevelyan’s invest in making its site safer as I do not want anybody else to go through my experience”.

Trevelyan’s application for the enforceable undertaking said the company was established in 1976 and had 227 full-time employees, 13 part-time and 1400 casual. The victim was a seasonal employee.

Company installs AI equipment in forklifts

In a statement via WorkSafe, Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool Limited managing director, James Trevelyan, says it acknowledges the importance of learning from the accident and is committed to ensuring such incidents don't happen again.

Trevelyan says the company is committed to investing in the health and safety of its workforce and the broader industry and supporting the injured victim and his family.

“We are dedicated to building robust capability in the New Zealand workforce, with a specific focus on the prevention of forklift accidents.”

An example of implementing improvements includes installing AI equipment in its forklifts.

Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool Limited managing director James Trevelyan pictured in 2019. Photo / Stuart Whitaker.

While the AI system is used in other industries across New Zealand, he says Trevelyan’s is the first within the kiwifruit industry to have trialled and fitted the equipment to its fleet.

It also funds a further 60 pieces of equipment for other post-harvest facilities.

Trevelyan says the company places the “highest priority” on the health and well-being of its staff, growers, suppliers and community.

“This commitment not only reflects our obligations under the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 but is also a testament to our genuine concern for each individual associated with us.”

Traffic management plan ‘deficient’

The WorkSafe statement says the agency’s investigation after the incident found Trevelyan’s traffic management plan for the site was “deficient”, with forklifts and workers “clearly not kept separate”.

Regulatory support manager Catalijne Pille says forklifts are essential to the kiwifruit industry and businesses must manage the risks.

“Where they don’t, we will take action. Harvest season brings heightened risks from more product movement, less space to work, and more people in close quarters.”

Pille says AI brought “significant possibilities” for health and safety innovation.

“In this case, it’s about using algorithms and sensors to detect nearby pedestrians to reduce the risk of accidents and enhance workplace safety.

“We hope to see the benefits extend beyond the kiwifruit industry.”

As a result of the undertaking, WorkSafe’s charges against Trevelyan’s were discontinued.

WorkSafe will regularly monitor progress on the agreed initiatives and could resume prosecution if necessary.

“Trevelyan’s investment to improve safety in their workplace is the preferred solution in this case,” Pille says.

“It demonstrates a substantial commitment to health and safety which may not have been achieved by prosecution.”

A driver tests the AI pedestrian-sensing technology installed on forklifts at Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool Limited after a 2022 incident.

The enforceable undertaking document shows Trevelyan’s has committed to a minimum spend of $513,028.09.

This includes $175,500 for benefits to the industry, $136,500 for benefits to workers/others, $123,028.09 for financial amends paid to the victim and $78,000 for benefits to the community.

The document says the company “deeply regrets” the man’s injury and failing to ensure the safety of its workers.

Trevelyan’s considers the enforceable undertaking an “opportunity for reparation” and will support the injured party and improve the health and safety of its workforce and the wider industry, generally and specifically regarding the risks associated with forklifts.

-Bay of Plenty Times.


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