INJURIES to workers in the vegetable industry cost more than three times the average of WorkCover claims across Australia.
Victorian Farm Safety Centre manager Andrew Sullivan, who is based at the University of Ballarat, said 266 claims in the industry in Victoria were lodged between 2004 and 2009, at a cost of $18 million.
The average cost of the claims was about $68,000, compared with the national average of $20,000 for all industries. More than half of the claims were associated with manual handling injuries.
There also was the hidden cost of injuries suffered by self-employed farm owners or family members who were not eligible for WorkCover and had to fund their own treatment and recovery.
Mr Sullivan, who spoke at last weeks National Vegetable Expo at Werribee, is managing a project aimed at reducing the number and cost of claims in the vegetable industry, and secondly, to identify solutions to reduce the incidence of these injuries.
The injury rates in the industry indicate that there is a need for specialised information to be developed and implemented.
The project aims to achieve an immediate reduction in manual handling injuries within a twelve month period and a further reduction in injuries over three years as a result of on-site training and infrastructure changes on vegetable properties.
VGA-Victoria is a member of the Stakeholder Reference Group which assists in overseeing the project.
It is the intention of the project team to work with approximately 10 enterprises and involve representatives of the workplaces in the identification, assessment and potential control of hazardous manual handling activities initially in the packing shed and subsequently outdoors.
The main focus of the project is what Andrew calls the “three Ps”: planting, picking and packing. The most common injuries were back-related – caused by frequent lifting, twisting and bending – or affected the shoulder or nerves in the wrist.
“The majority of claims are associated with packing, but some of that packing occurs in the field and tend to be long-term / high-cost injuries,” he said.
We need to find out what is causing them, find affordable solutions and accessible ones with the objective of trying to roll that out across the industry.”
Mr Sullivan said some growers had already addressed issues by using machines to stack cartons above shoulder height, reducing the weight of cartons and redesigning packing lines.
A complicating factor is the growing reliance on workers supplied by contractors.
“The focus is on simple solutions, low-cost solutions that are easy to roll out,” he said.
“We wont necessarily make you money but we will save you money.”
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