Kiwifruit worker for Trevelyan’s loses lower leg after being hit by forklift

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.

WorkSafe said in a statement 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.

The victim said via the WorkSafe statement his injury badly impacted his retirement savings because he planned to work for five or 10 more years, but had 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 said 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 (AI) 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.

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 said he did not want to tell his story in court but was “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, said it acknowledged the importance of learning from the accident and was committed to ensuring such incidents did not happen again.

Trevelyan said the company was 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 included installing AI equipment in its forklifts.

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

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

Trevelyan said the company placed 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 said 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 said forklifts were 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 said 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 would 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 said.

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

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

This included $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 said the company “deeply regrets” the man’s injury and failing to ensure the safety of its workers.

Trevelyan’s considered the enforceable undertaking an “opportunity for reparation” and would 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.

Source: Bay of Plenty Times

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