With the wine vintage now underway around New Zealand, the organisation representing rural contractors has called on the wine industry to ensure its following sound health and safety practices.

Rural Contractors NZ president David Kean says like much other contracting, those in viticulture need to recognise the risks of pushing themselves and staff into working over-long hours.

“Contractors really need to have a plan around staffing to ensure they don’t require people to get fatigued.”

“We are well aware of the challenges faced in getting skilled staff but you cannot expect people to work 12 and 18 hour days, week in week out, and expect that there will not be consequences.”

Mr Kean noted the case from 2016 where a worker for a Waikato contracting company doing harvesting on a farm in Pukekawa had logged a 16.75 hour day before heading home after 2am on a tractor in preparation for the next day’s work. He crashed the tractor and died as a result of injuries sustained.

“That worker had logged nearly 200 hours in the fortnight leading up to his death. Fatigue was identified as the most likely cause of the accident. ”

“As contractors we are caught in an awful bind. We have to get much work done, often in a limited period of time like the wine vintage. We do our best to look after our clients but we also have to feel able to say that there is a limit to what we ask staff to do – or take on ourselves.”

Mr Kean said it’s not just physical fatigue affecting workers doing long hours.

“You are having to concentrate for hours at a time, looking at small screens. That can give you eye strain and headaches as the hours clock up.”

Rural Contractors NZ has around 500 members in New Zealand including some in wine regions whose operations include viticultural work.

“Our members all work to a Code of Ethics that says we shall be good employers with fair and reasonable conditions of employment, healthy and safe work places, and employment practices.”

“We also engage regularly with Government agencies on issues including health and safety, labour, transport and other matters affecting our members. We don’t have a lot of members in the wine sector but some might see value in belonging to a national organisation that can go in to bat for them on issues like getting more skilled machinery operators.”

Mr Kean, who hails from Southland, acknowledges he’s no expert on the wine industry but says a lot of his members operate in weather conditions that are worse than those in wine regions like Marlborough or Hawkes Bay.

“We have to contend in places like Southland with a much more variable climate and still get our work done while not demanding crazy hours from ourselves or our staff.”

“I would understand that this may require some changes in approach in the wine regions and can only hope that this can start this vintage and roll on from there,” said Mr Kean.