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Kiwifruit Industry Opens New Frontiers In Forklift Safety

AI technology to sense pedestrians around forklifts is the centrepiece of a new safety commitment WorkSafe has accepted from a major player in the kiwifruit industry.

The commitment, known as an enforceable undertaking, was put forward by Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool Limited in Te Puke, where a worker was traumatically injured in April 2022. Trevelyan’s is New Zealand’s largest single-site kiwifruit and avocado packhouse.

The man was struck while walking behind a reversing forklift, and had his left leg and foot run over. When the driver moved the forklift forward, he ran over the victim’s foot a second time. Ultimately, the victim’s lower left leg could not be saved, and it was amputated below the knee.

WorkSafe’s role is to influence businesses to meet their responsibilities to keep people healthy and safe. Our investigation found Trevelyan’s traffic management plan for the site was deficient, with forklifts and workers clearly not kept separate.

“Forklifts are essential to the kiwifruit industry and we expect businesses to manage their 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,” says WorkSafe’s regulatory support manager, Catalijne Pille.

In response to the incident, Trevelyan’s has committed to delivering a series of safety initiatives worth half a million dollars, including:

  • An AI pedestrian detection system fitted to 40 forklifts to improve safety and reduce risks
  • Collaborating with the kiwifruit industry to spread the uptake of this technology and enhance safety
  • Investing in training to improve health and safety competency across the business
  • Reparation to the victim
  • Funding for the Amputee Society of Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Districts
  • Funding scholarships for the Health and Safety Association of New Zealand.
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“Artificial intelligence brings 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,” says WorkSafe’s Catalijne Pille.

As a result of the undertaking, WorkSafe’s charges against Trevelyan’s were discontinued. WorkSafe will regularly monitor progress on the agreed initiatives and can resume prosecution if necessary.

“Trevelyan’s investment to improve safety in their workplace is the preferred solution in this case. It demonstrates a substantial commitment to health and safety which may not have been achieved by prosecution.”

Read more about the decision

Read more about worksite traffic management

Statement from the forklift incident victim:

My life changed in one second on 25 April 2022. 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. My injury had a very bad effect on my retirement savings, as I’d planned to work for another five or ten years, but I’ve not been able to. I didn’t want to tell my story in court, but I’m pleased to see Trevelyan’s invest in making its site safer as I do not want anybody else to go through my experience.

Statement from Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool Limited managing director James Trevelyan:

Trevelyan's Pack and Cool Limited acknowledges the importance of learning from the accident and is committed to ensuring that such incidents do not reoccur.

Trevelyan's Pack and Cool Limited is not only committed to investing in the health and safety of our workforce and the broader industry, but also in actively supporting the injured person 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 artificial intelligence (AI) equipment in our forklifts. While this AI system is in use in other industries across New Zealand, Trevelyan's is the first within the kiwifruit industry to have trialled and fitted the equipment to its fleet. As part of our EU commitment, we have also funded another 60 pieces of equipment for other post-harvest facilities across the remainder of the industry.

Trevelyan's Pack & Cool Limited places the highest priority on the health and well-being of all Trevelyan's 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.

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