As school holidays start, WorkSafe issues a reminder that workplaces are not childcare
New Zealand’s WorkSafe authority has reminded all employees that their workplaces are not a suitable substitute for early childhood education and care (ECEC) solutions after a young child was run over in a forklift incident at a Hawke’s Bay orchard.
When ECEC options fell through, the boy was taken to the orchard by his grandparents who worked there. He was told to stay inside the packhouse on a couch. Unfortunately, he wandered from that spot and into the path of a reversing forklift being driven by a 14-year-old worker.
The victim survived but suffered significant complex fractures to his hip bones and was hospitalised for a month. The orchard owner has now been sentenced for health and safety failures.
A WorkSafe investigation found the victim was under limited supervision as the caregivers were busy working. The forklift was poorly maintained with no basic safety features like reversing lights, mirrors, flashing lights, or a horn. The driver was underage, and the site had no written traffic management plan for forklift use.
“Naturally children want to explore, try new things, and push boundaries. As we head into the holiday season, this case is a reminder that children are always at risk on worksites and should not have been present,” says WorkSafe’s area investigation manager, Paul Budd.
In this specific instance, WorkSafe found that it was common for the young driver to be behind the wheel, and the owner had not done enough to establish his age. As a result, he reminded businesses that workers under 15 years of age are not allowed to drive vehicles on worksites.
The importance of risk management was also highlighted in this care, given that the business used verbal and informal risk management because of language barriers.
“It’s not good enough to say that your risk management is verbal because employees cannot always read English. Translating your safety information for workers, if necessary, goes a long way to keeping them safe,” Mr Budd said.
“Better traffic management would also have made a big difference to safety. This could have included exclusion zones to separate vehicles from people, the use of barriers when operating the forklift, clear signage, and separate entry and exit points for people and vehicles,” he added.
Children are now prohibited from the orchard during operating hours, and the victim has made a full recovery.
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