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Fruit harvesting and packaging

Harvest is a busy time on a farm. With ripe fruit ready to pick and pack and only a short time available to do the work, there can be lots of additional people and machinery at work. This presents a range of safety risks.

What do we mean by fruit harvesting and packaging?

Fruit harvesting and packaging is a seasonal activity that happens during harvest times on farms and in orchards where fruit is grown.

Harvesting is the process of gathering the ripe crop from the plants. There are three common fruit harvesting methods:

  1. hand harvesting
  2. harvesting with hand tools
  3. harvesting with machinery.

Fruit packaging involves preparing the fruit for shipment and could include weighing, wrapping, packing, sealing and labelling the harvested fruit. The fruit packaging method can vary depending upon the type of fruit, the quantity, and the method of shipment and sale.

Fruit packaging methods include:

  1. hand packaging
  2. packaging with machinery
  3. a combination of both hand and machinery packaging.

What are the risks of fruit harvesting and packaging?

There are general risks and risks specific to the activity being undertaken or the equipment being used. These include:

  • crush injuries and possible death resulting from the temporary removal of rollover protective structures (ROPS) on tractors
  • back and shoulder pain and injuries from wearing an ill-fitting fruit picking bag and lifting heavy items incorrectly
  • risk of falls and serious injury when using ladders for picking, pruning and thinning
  • pinch, entanglement and entrapment injuries, ranging from minor grazes to amputations and death from contact with machinery
  • electrocution from touching damaged electrical cords and unsafe equipment
  • muscle strain from overreaching, stretching and undertaking repetitive tasks
  • muscle, tendon and nerve damage from repetitive movements
  • trip and slip injuries from obstructions left in walkways and water on the floor
  • cut injuries from secateurs
  • hearing and eye injuries from compressed air in air pruners and compressor hoses
  • heat stress from prolonged sun exposure
  • skin irritation and burns (severe in some cases) and possible death from a severe allergic reaction following contact with mango sap – mango sap is highly caustic and released when the stem is removed from the fruit.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers and managers can work together to reduce the risks of fruit harvesting and packaging.

For workers

As a worker, you must:

  • take care of your own health and safety as well as the health and safety of others
  • cooperate with management to meet health and safety requirements and reduce risks.

For businesses

As an employer or business owner, you have legal responsibilities as outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for the health and safety of every worker and visitor.

The four-step risk management process below will help businesses to meet their responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws.

You can also use the practical advice in the  How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB).

Four steps to manage risk

The first step is to identify the hazards.

This can be done by considering the task that is to be undertaken and the risks associated with that task. The risks can result from the actions of workers, or from the use of machinery.

Inspecting your farm and your work processes and ask yourself:

  • Is the equipment properly designed for the job?
  • Is the equipment well maintained?
  • Are my workers properly trained in the tasks I’m asking them to do?

Talk to your workers and ask:

  • Are you aware of any potential hazards?
  • How can we improve our safety and our processes?
  • Do you know how to report a hazard?

Regularly review your own records, and consider:

  • What do your workers’ compensation claims, recorded incidents, sick leave and worker complaints tell you about past incidents and hazards?
  • What can you do to prevent the same things happening again?

Next, assess the level of risk posed by each hazard. The risk level is determined by:

  • how serious the potential harm is
  • how likely it is to happen.

You can use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide you and record your assessments.

The law requires you to eliminate the risks if practical, or to minimise them as much as possible.

You must work through the hierarchy of controls to choose the control that most effectively eliminates or minimises the risks. This may involve a single control measure or combination of two or more different controls.

Find the hierarchy of controls in How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) .

Some controls apply to all tasks when fruit harvesting and packaging, including:

  • ensuring workers are properly trained and able to perform the task safely
  • using plant and equipment that is designed for the task, well maintained and in good working order.

Specific fruit harvesting and packaging tasks and equipment have specific controls, as follows:


Fruit pickers’ bags

  • Ensure the fruit picking bag is the right size for the worker.
  • Adjust the straps so they are flat on the shoulders and back and so the bag is comfortable to wear.


  • Choose a ladder that is right for the worker’s size and weight and suits the trees.
  • Check the ladder is structurally safe.
  • Ensure the spurs are not worn off, or if there are no spurs use safety chains.
  • Place the ladder side-on to the tree (front-on can restrict access) in a stable position as close as possible to the highest fruit to be picked.
  • Stabilise the ladder by pushing down on the rungs and pushing the back two legs into the ground.
  • Climb the ladder with an empty picking bag and pick the fruit furthest away from the ladder first.
  • Stand underneath the ladder to lift and shift it to comfortably reach the picking area.

Hydraulic ladders

  • Check tyre pressure and oil levels daily.
  • Look out for overhead powerlines.
  • Don’t use during an electrical storm.


  • Ensure all machine guards are in place.
  • Regularly clean around the machines and inside the guards where squashed fruit or water could cause accidents, fires or breakdowns.
  • Keep power leads uncoiled and away from water.
  • Check for partially severed power leads or fused motors and use an electrician to fix any problems.
  • Rotate workers doing manual tasks to help reduce muscle strain.
  • Provide rubber mats to reduce static loads and fatigue.
  • Ensure conveyor heights suit workers to minimise bending and overreaching.
  • During maintenance, ensure all machinery is turned off and isolated.
  • Be aware of forklifts operating in the shed - learn more about forklifts.

Fruit and vegetable packing

  • Ensure the work area is not cluttered with equipment, boxes, dropped fruit and strapping.
  • Ensure workers wear comfortable closed-in shoes with good tread.
  • Support the packing tray/box at a comfortable height and have the presentation angle adjustable.

Secateurs and air pruning guns

  • Immediately replace worn parts.
  • Prune at a safe distance from co-workers and avoid holding the tree wood that is to be pruned.
  • Disconnect the air hose before working with pruning guns.
  • Apply trigger safety switches when moving the guns between rows and climbing up ladders.
  • Unplug hoses and release stored air from the compressor during long breaks.
  • Don’t use compressed air to clean clothing or dust particles from the body.

Health and wellbeing

  • Wear light clothing, light colours, long sleeves, wrap-around sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat.
  • Apply broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen before starting work and re-apply every two hours.
  • Drink plenty of water – at least four litres per day.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol as they can contribute to dehydration.
  • After work, get plenty of rest, eat a nutritious meal and drink plenty of water to re-hydrate.

Operating machinery

  • Ensure guards are in place.
  • Do not allow loose clothing or long hair to hang near machinery.
  • Always obey farm rules and signs.
  • Know how to STOP the machine in an emergency.
  • Use machinery and tools for their designated purpose only.

Mango and sap allergies

  • Protect skin and eyes by always wearing long pants, long sleeved collared shirt, wide-brimmed hat, closed-in shoes, gloves and sunglasses.
  • Always hold the stem end of the fruit away from the body.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching eyes, face or going to the toilet.
  • Wash sap from skin immediately with fresh water and cover the affected area with a clean dressing to prevent further contact.
  • Flush sap from eyes with fresh running water.
  • Consult a doctor or chemist if irritation persists, or for swelling to the face or breathing difficulties dial 000.

You should regularly review your control measures. Don’t wait for something to go wrong. If necessary, change or adjust your approach. The aim is to maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

Work health and safety laws require you to review controls:

  • when you become aware a control measure is not working effectively
  • before a change that might introduce a new risk
  • when you find a new hazard or risk
  • when your workers tell you that a review is needed
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.