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Innovative safety systems reduce injuries

The long term safety benefits far outweigh short term costs and risks to safety. That was the reasoning behind Saratoga Holdings decision to fit every tractor and harvesting machine with an in-house designed safety mechanism to keep their workers safe.

The 'cut out switches' kick in as soon as a worker leaves their seat. The entire tractor or machinery stops and cannot be started again until the worker sits back on the drivers' seat. This eliminates the risk of an operator either over-riding other safety features, or the equipment starting in any other way.

Why did Saratoga Holdings, the largest producer of macadamia nuts in the world, take this step? We share their story…

Accident prompts some changes

An experienced and long term harvester was working on the macadamia property at Hinkler Park near Bundaberg in March 2013, when he reached his arm into a moving auger to unblock it. Tragically, his hand was pulled in and amputated.

An investigation indicated the employee breached several safety protocols, including failing to turn off the moving machinery parts, which led to the unfortunate incident.

This traumatic accident prompted Saratoga Holdings to find a way to ensure safety procedures couldn't be over-ridden or over-looked, and accidents couldn't be caused by lapses in judgment or human error.

Safety systems in machinery

Hinkler Park Plantation Operations Manager, Clayton Mattiazzi, explained the macadamia industry is quite young, so there are very few pieces of specialist machinery that can be brought from large machinery manufactures.

“Therefore we design and build our own harvesters and the safety switches were in the trial stage. The switches were initially installed on the door – as the door opened the hydraulics dropped out. But, during testing, we found once the operator shut the door after exiting, the hydraulics would start again.

“Due to this we went back to the drawing board and came up with the seat switch. Once we installed it on our newest harvester and trialed in field, we were ready to adapt the re-design,” he said.

Clayton adds they have also installed a buzzer that sounds when hydraulics are engaged in the wrong sequence or dangerously. “We had been trialing the 'electric over hydraulic technology' in the two years prior to the incident and had it installed on any new machinery built,” he said.

Worker safety of utmost importance

When asked if the cut out switch has now eliminated machinery related injuries, Clayton says, “Definitely! There is now NO WAY they can exit the safety of their harvester cabin without all tractor and attached implements shutting down.”

“Obviously, worker safety is the highest of priorities. If you can't perform daily farm activities by minimising the likelihood of exposure to on farm risks, then you are jeopardising employee safety, and you are potentially self-sabotaging your own potential productivity as a business,” he said.

Clayton has some advice for others in the industry:

  • Strive to minimise the likelihood of harm to all employees in all farm activities
  • Encourage a work culture where individuals take responsibility for their actions
  • Encourage a work culture that revises, and continually improves on quality and better ways to conduct activities
  • Use a number of safety control measures, don't rely on just training or guarding
  • Machinery design is critical!

Thanks to Saratoga Holdings for sharing their story, and for supplying the picture of a self propelled harvester.

Find out more about safety requirements and hazards.