Horticulture module

Have you read the General Module, completed the test and printed your safe@work General Award of Attainment?

The Horticulture Module should be done AFTER the General Module.

If it is some time since you have done the General Module you should read the Review Module. The test for this module contains some questions based on the Review Module.

'Horticulture' covers a wide range of activities, including plant propagation and cultivation, crop production, plant breeding and genetic engineering, plant biochemistry and plant physiology. This may involve the growing of fruit and vegetable crops, flowers, trees, shrubs and turf.

Examples of workplaces involved in horticulture include:

  • Nurseries
  • Vineyards
  • Market gardens
  • Plant wholesalers

It's important that your employer has taken action to control workplace risks. You must follow safe working procedures – not just for your own safety, but also for the safety of others working with you.

Manual handling

In the horticulture industry, manual handling of heavy objects and the need to carry out repetitive work are often necessary. Back and shoulder strains and other manual handling injuries can result from sudden overexertion, or from continuous 'overuse'.

Manual handling injuries can occur in a number of ways, such as:

  • heavy or awkward lifting, such as handling bags of seed or fertiliser
  • having to sustain awkward positions – for example, using chainsaws for prolonged periods
  • repetitive hand movements (for example, while pruning with secateurs or picking fruit), and
  • stumbling, tripping or falling while carrying things over uneven ground.

People who sustain a manual handling injury at work can spend the rest of their lives coping with pain, unable to play sports or do many other things they might otherwise enjoy.

Your employer must assess manual handling risks and put effective risk controls in place. If the job can't be done another way, and if mechanical aids cannot be used to replace manual handling, the risk controls are likely to include training, information and supervision, and safe handling procedures. These may include:

  • lightening the load
  • team lifting – sharing the load
  • warming up properly before starting work
  • avoiding bending, twisting and having to reach out to handle an object
  • using correct body techniques when lifting, lowering or carrying
  • using mechanical aids such as trolleys, hoists, ramps and barrows
  • allocating time for rest breaks
  • taking time to gradually get used to a new manual handling task

Picking bags

Fruit picking requires the use of a bag with a shoulder strap, which becomes heavier and more awkward as it fills up. These 'picking bags' place an increased load on the spine, but there are a number of things than can be done to reduce manual handling risk, including:

  • keeping bags to a safe maximum size for the crop, to prevent them from becoming too heavy to carry safely
  • making sure the bag selected suits the worker's physical size and capabilities
  • providing wide, padded shoulder straps to distribute weight over the shoulders
  • using hip or pelvis straps to prevent the bag from swinging away from the body

Tubs and other containers

Grapes and other fruits and berries will often be carried in plastic tubs. Like picking bags, these should be limited in size to keep their maximum weight within safe levels. It's important to arrange the work so that they can be picked up and put down comfortably, without the need for stretching or reaching out with your arms away from your body.

Tubs need to be carried to trailers for transport to storage facilities. The trailer should be located as close to the picking area as practicable. This will reduce the distance over which they need to be carried.


Training can help people to understand the hazards of manual handling, and to assess each task before they attempt it. There are safe lifting practices that can significantly reduce risks if other risk control methods are not practicable. Some of these are:

  • keeping objects close to the body when lifting
  • raising and lowering object directly in front of the body (without having to twist the spine or reach to the side)
  • working at a steady and comfortable pace, rather than rushing to finish a job quickly, and
  • rotating jobs to give people the opportunity to use different muscles and adopt different postures.

Even though you may be new to a job, you should always speak up if you feel a task is too heavy, too difficult, too tiring, or puts you at other risk of injury. Talk to your supervisor, who should be prepared to find ways of making every task a safe one.

Machinery and equipment

This section deals with a number of items of machinery and equipment commonly used in the horticulture industry.

No student should be asked to perform work on any machine which may present significant risks in operation. Work experience activity in such cases must be limited to observing, under supervision, trained and experienced operators.

The health and safety information here is designed to give students an understanding of the hazards, and the measures by which risks are controlled in the horticulture industry.

Horticulture industry employees may operate, or come into contact with, a wide range of machinery. The word 'plant' is used to describe machines like mobile elevating work platforms (used for fruit picking), tractors and forklifts. All of these require training and experience to ensure the safety of the operator and others working nearby.

Always check with your supervisor before using specific tools or equipment, to make sure they are permitted (and if so, what information and training you may need).

Employers must:

  • make sure employees have been properly trained to operate any item of mechanical equipment before they use it and make sure they are supervised when necessary, and
  • provide any personal protective equipment needed for a specific task, and explain how to wear and use it correctly.


Noise from machinery can cause permanent hearing loss. The damage can occur gradually over a number of years, and may remain unnoticed until it is too late – noise-induced hearing loss is not reversible.

You may be exposed to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels [dB(A)] that can lead to permanent hearing loss. Typical noises that can damage hearing include:

  • tractor - 95-100 dB(A)
  • orchard sprayer - 85-100 dB(A)
  • chainsaw - 105-120 dB(A)

If the noise cannot be removed at its source, your employer must provide personal hearing protection (earmuffs or earplugs) in combination with other risk controls, to increase your level of protection.


Tractors are used for many horticulture tasks, such as pulling chemical sprayers for fruit and vines. They are one of the main causes of workplace fatalities. The victims include operators falling from moving tractors or being crushed when a tractor rolls sideways or tips backwards. Frequently, accidents involve people being run over by tractors (often because they have fallen off while riding on the tractor).

Because tractors often work on soft or uneven ground, they must be fitted with roll-over protection. Many older tractors may not have this protection, which increases the risk for their operators.

Power take-off (PTO) shafts – which drive other machinery attached to the tractor – revolve at high speeds and must be securely guarded. They can easily entangle your clothing, hair or jewellery, causing serious injury or death. These shafts must be completely enclosed by a guard at all times while in operation.

You must never drive - or ride on - a tractor while undertaking work experience.

Agricultural bikes (ATVs)

Agricultural bikes are motorbikes with two, three or four wheels. Three and four wheelers are also known as 'all terrain vehicles' or ATVs. They are often used on fruit growing properties, sometimes in place of tractors, for jobs requiring that chemicals are applied in areas where tractors cannot be used.

They have a narrow wheel base and a high centre of gravity, so they can be unstable and have caused injuries and even fatalities.

Most agricultural bike injuries result from lack of training and experience, speed, uneven or unfamiliar ground, carrying a passenger or an unbalanced load, unsuitable protective clothing and unsafe driving.


Forklifts are used in horticulture to transport crates and other items, and to load vehicles. Operators must be licensed, and the weight of the load must always be within the forklift's load-carrying capacity.

Many forklift accidents involve pedestrians being struck by forklifts or their loads, so in areas where forklifts are used, care must be taken to keep pedestrian traffic at a safe distance from them.

Forklifts must never be used to elevate people unless fitted with a purpose-built work platform that meets Australian standards.


Chainsaws are used for pruning and cutting down fruit trees and vine butts, and when putting in vine trellis posts.

The skills required for safe chainsaw operation can only be obtained through training and experience. Every year, many serious chainsaw-related injuries occur as a result of:

  • lack of proper training
  • poor maintenance
  • lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)

Chainsaw operators must wear the right PPE for each job:

  • safety glasses (and face shield)
  • hard hat
  • hearing protection
  • cut-resistant chaps
  • safety footwear
  • gloves

Other employees who may be helping (for example, by removing pruned wood) will need to wear much of the same PPE, and must take care to remain clear when cutting is taking place.


Much of the maintenance of machinery and equipment used in horticulture will be done by employees in the workshop. A well equipped workshop enables routine maintenance such as sharpening saw and mower blades, repairing wooden pallets and crates, and servicing mobile machinery. Horticulture industry employees may need to use power tools like nail guns, grinders and electric saws.

Work experience activity in maintenance workshops must be limited to observing, under supervision, trained and experienced operators.

To reduce the risk of injury, employers or supervisors must:

  • provide training, instruction and supervision for all workshop tasks
  • provide suitable tools for each job
  • provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing
  • provide sufficient working space to allow each task to be done safely
  • provide good lighting and ventilation

Your supervisor should explain safe work procedures before you attempt any task. These procedures must be followed, and you must wear any personal protective equipment provided.

Hazardous substances and dangerous goods

Hazardous substances (chemicals) are classified according to the harmful effects they can have on human health. These effects may be immediate (such as chemical spray drift causing stinging in the eyes) or long term (such as skin complaints like dermatitis arising from skin contact with chemicals).

Chemicals like weed killers and insect killers, widely used in the horticulture industry, are hazardous substances.

Dangerous goods are classified according to their potential immediate physical or chemical effects. These include explosion, fire, corrosion and poisoning. Petrol, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), aerosols and some fertilisers are all dangerous goods.

There are four ways in which chemicals can enter the body:

  • absorption (through contact with the skin)
  • contact with the eyes
  • ingestion (swallowing), and
  • inhalation (breathing in dusts, sprays, mists or vapours).

There are many different types of hazardous substances and dangerous goods used in the horticulture industry, including pesticides, herbicides and fuel for vehicles and equipment.

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) provides important information about the hazards of a specific chemical product. It also details emergency and first aid procedures in the event of someone being exposed to the chemical.

Your employer must make sure MSDS are available for every hazardous substance and dangerous good in the workplace. These must be easily accessible to all employees who may work with (or be exposed to) the chemicals involved.

Hazardous substances must be stored safely in a locked area with warning signs posted clearly outside. All chemical containers must be clearly labelled to prevent accidental misuse.

Handling chemicals safely

Employers must take steps to ensure that hazardous substances and dangerous goods do not place their employees – or members of the public – at risk. They must:

  • keep a register of all hazardous substances and dangerous goods at the work site
  • train employees in the safe use of chemicals, and ensuring that they are suitably qualified (e.g. by obtaining Chemical User's Certificates)
  • provide personal protective clothing and equipment to protect employees when using chemicals
  • provide well ventilated areas for pouring and mixing chemicals
  • provide first aid facilities where chemicals are used (including eye wash bottles)
  • provide adequate facilities for washing (including water, soap and towels)

Chemicals and the environment

Many of the chemicals used in horticulture can harm the environment if not used carefully. Employers must make sure:

  • hazardous substances and dangerous goods do not get into waterways (for example, through drains
  • spraying does not take place where wind can carry the spray drift to areas where people are working or livestock are grazing
  • chemicals are not applied in excessive quantities
  • chemical containers and unused chemicals are disposed of in the correct manner, where they will not have an adverse impact on the environment

Employers must provide information about hazard substances to their employees. This includes potential harmful effects, and action required in the event of a spill or of a person being exposed to a chemical.

UV radiation, heat and cold

In the horticulture industry, you may often have to work in the open, in hot or cold weather. Employees working outdoors are exposed to damaging ultra-violet (UV) radiation from the sun. Work in cold conditions also presents health risks.

Short-term risks of exposure to UV radiation include sunburn and sore, swollen eyes sensitive to bright light. Long-term risks include skin cancers, wrinkling, wasting skin tissues, excessive pigmentation, and clusters of tiny blood vessels and cataracts of the eye.

Your employer should assess whether the day's tasks could cause heat stress or heat stroke, and consider ways of eliminating or reducing the risks by considering factors like:

  • the weather forecast: temperature, humidity and UV index
  • personal protection that will be required – broad brimmed hats, sunscreen, fluids
  • availability of shade near the work area
  • how strenuous the work is likely to be, and how often employees will need to take breaks

Where possible, your employer should re-schedule heavier work for cooler times of the day (or wait for cooler weather), and arrange breaks where employees can rest in a shaded environment. Rotating jobs between workers is one way of reducing the time individuals have to spend in the sun.

Your employer should brief you in safe work procedures for working in the sun, including how often (and for how long) you should take rest breaks.

Heat stress

The effects of heat stress range from simple discomfort to life-threatening illnesses such as heat stroke. Signs of heat stress include tiredness, irritability, inattention and muscular cramps.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is not common. A person suffering from heat stroke will stop sweating and body temperature will be high. Skin will be hot and dry. Confusion and loss of consciousness may occur.

Ways to reduce the risk

Your employer should make sure you are trained in ways to reduce the risk of sunburn, heat stress and heat stroke. Some of these are:

  • drinking plenty of water
  • taking rest breaks in a shaded place
  • wearing cool, protective clothing such as a shirt with collar and long sleeves, and long trousers
  • wearing a broad brimmed hat that shades your head, neck, face and ears
  • applying SPF30+ sunscreen before exposure to sunlight as well as on overcast days – your nose, lips, ears, neck and backs of hands need extra protection

Protective clothing provided by your employer MUST be worn when protection from UV radiation is needed. Sunscreen must be re-applied regularly while you are in the sun.

Cold and wet-weather conditions

In the horticulture industry, you may have to work where there is little or no protection from cold or wet-weather conditions. For employees working outdoors, there is a risk of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold and wet weather conditions.

Appropriate protective clothing and footwear must be worn to protect you from extreme cold and wet-weather conditions.

As with work in hot conditions, it may be necessary to re-schedule the work if cold, wind and rain are likely to place individuals at risk of illness.

Working at height

There are many horticulture tasks that require working at height. Fruit picking, tree maintenance, ascending and descending ladders – all of these present a real risk of falling.

Before asking people to climb ladders or carry out any work at height, employers should examine options to make the work safer. In fruit picking, this includes things like controlling the height to which trees grow, thereby limiting the height at which fruit needs to be picked. This can be done by close planting, trellising or altering 'tree architecture' – the shape and size of the tree.

Many jobs that present fall hazards could in fact be done from the ground, if the right equipment (such as pole pruners to reach high branches) is provided.

If the required tasks cannot be done from the ground, the safest practicable methods must be employed. This could require the use of:

  • elevating work platforms
  • fixed, suspended or mobile scaffolds

If sloping ground or condition of the soil make it impracticable to use work platforms or to safely erect scaffolds, it may be necessary to use fixed or portable ladders. Using the right ladder for the task is very important – orchard ladders must meet the Australian Standard for the tasks involved.

Ladders must be inspected each time before they are used, to make sure there is no damage that could lead to collapse. Things that could cause the ladder to fail include:

  • broken, loose or missing rungs
  • damaged side rails
  • loose screws, bolts or hinges
  • cracks, rust or cracked welds
  • damage to the foot plates of the ladder

If portable ladders are used for work at height, employees must be trained to inspect the ladder for faults or damage, and to set up the ladder securely.

Training is essential for employees to work safely from ladders. This is not a task that students undertaking work experience should be asked to carry out.

Confined spaces

A 'confined space' is an area that presents dangers to anyone entering, because of:

  • low oxygen levels
  • presence of dangerous contaminants (such as carbon monoxide)
  • intense heat or cold
  • difficulty in exiting the space (or in entering the space for another person attempting first aid or rescue)

Confined spaces can present risk of collapse if someone is overcome by gases, fumes or vapours within, or if there is insufficient oxygen. This also creates serious risk for any person attempting to come to the assistance of someone in a confined space. For this reason, many confined space fatalities are double fatalities.

If a confined space contains flammable gases or vapours, there is also the risk of fire or explosion. Welding in a confined space can generate a dangerous atmosphere.

Horticultural properties contain a number of areas that may be considered confined spaces. These include:

  • water tanks
  • chemical spray vats
  • mixing tanks
  • irrigation header boxes
  • pipes, culverts and deep trenches
  • disused refrigerators

It is an employer's responsibility to know where in their workplace confined spaces may be found, and to ensure that all employees have been informed of their location and the potential risks of entry. Where possible, entry to confined spaces should be prevented by locks and warning signs.

Your employer should point out any prohibited areas to you. Potential confined spaces should be identified by warning signs to alert people to the hazard.

Biological hazards

Handling potting and seed-raising mixes may cause irritations or respiratory problems, especially if you have allergies or are susceptible. Employees should wear gloves and an industrial dust mask when handling soil and potting mix.

Legionella longbeachae occurs naturally in soil and compost, and has been detected in commercial potting mixes. Their have also been reported cases of the disease being contracted after high pressure hoses were used on recently laid potting mix.

However, it's a sound practice to moisten potting mix before using it, to suppress dust. Users should avoid inhaling the dust, particularly when the bag is being opened or when shaking the mix to loosen it up. You should always wash your hands after using potting mix, soils or compost.

If you are working with potting mixes, fertilisers and soils, you should be provided with gloves and (if there is a possibility of inhaling dusts) a disposable mask.

Self-assessment test

You may now try the Horticulture Self-Assessment Test

There are 16 questions. If you get 12 or more correct you will receive an Award of Attainment. The Principal of your school will need to sign the Award and validate it with the school stamp.