Approaching a record harvest for Queensland cotton growers led to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) inspectors undertaking compliance audits with the industry’s cotton gins.
In early 2023, by actively engaging with the cotton industry, WHSQ inspectors identified that climate conditions, coupled with a decent amount of moisture in the soil, would lead to substantial cotton production in the upcoming season. A rising cotton bale price also heightened the anticipation for a record harvest.
This projected surge in cotton output was predicted to have a cascading impact on the cotton gin processing plants. Concerns were raised that to cope with the load, gins would operate 24hrs a day, old plant would be used to cope with the extra work, or new machinery introduced. It was evident that, in the face of this increased operational demand, safety considerations needed to be at the forefront to ensure the well-being of workers.
WHSQ contacted several cotton gins and safety management representatives and soon found that, since the last series of compliance audits in the early 2000s, safety management systems and practices within cotton gin facilities had fallen short of desired standards.
The 2023 cotton gin audits in Southwest and Central Queensland involved a desktop safety management systems assessment followed by observations of manufacturing operations to measure the effectiveness of safety systems at the ground level. As a result of the audits, inspectors took a variety of enforcement action resulting in several improvements.
It was a timely reminder to the industry that sudden increases in workloads in order to meet higher production demands must be matched with an increased focus on implementing effective risk controls which are reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.
Key areas identified
The cotton gins campaign identified the following key areas ranked by the number of enforcement actions taken:
Learn more about industry interventions and compliance campaigns.