When NFU Mutual Risk Management Services was called in to assess operations at a major vegetable production site, the expert advice and ongoing relationship gave bosses confidence in developing their business.
If you shop in any of the major supermarkets, chances are you’ve seen onions on the shelves or in ready meals courtesy of Suffolk Produce Ltd which accounts for up to seven per cent of the country’s supply.
As well as handling and storing 75,000 tonnes of produce a year, the firm is involved in ensiling forage maize for sister company Agri-Gen. It was this process which raised a concern in the mind of NFU Mutual Risk Management Service’s regional manager Hannah Dodds.
Suffolk Produce’s Mike Fielden explained: “We harvest and ensile nearly 45,000 tonnes of forage maize for Agri-Gen and we recognised a need to move away from a conventional system of using tractors and buckrakes so we went out and had a look at the PistenBully – a piste basher which is designed to work on mountainsides at night and which has a very low centre of gravity.
“Hannah had identified that using a conventional system might be an issue so we took that on board and went out in the off-season and sourced this machine.”
Hannah suggested that using standard tractors to move and drive over mounds of forage maize, which requires compression for an effective fermentation process, could prove too unstable and run the risk of overturning.
Mr Fielden, who has worked for Suffolk Produce for eight years, added: “You do feel a lot safer driving the PistenBully as it will work on slopes of 75 degrees quite comfortably.
“The health and safety was driven principally by its ability to be stable at heights and the other side of it is it’s a very good machine for the operator to use.”
With heated seats and windows, a camera for reversing, hot beverage holders and a decent radio, the vehicle makes for a comfortable environment for workers spending long hours behind the wheel.
A lot of Suffolk Produce’s work takes place in peak periods during the year and the increase in workload brings about its own challenges from a health and safety perspective.
With up to 40 casual staff working on site at busy times and a desire to make the workplace as safe as possible, the company called in NFU Mutual to ensure it was operating in the best way and in accordance with current legislation.
Mr Fielden added: “We take the risk element of the business very seriously and because of that we use NFU Mutual Risk Management Services.
“We have used NFU Mutual Risk Management Services for the past three years and we brought them in because we found we had more and more responsibilities to make sure we were representing and looking after our staff in the best way we could.
“Before we employed NFU Mutual Risk Management Services, like most farmers we did our best and tried to make sure everyone was safe, but obviously using their expertise and skills means we can keep up to date with any current legislation which can often be a point where you get tripped up if things do go wrong.”
Hannah generally visits the business three times a year – once to assist with the annual audit and on two other occasions to conduct site visits.
“It is very important because the trouble with farming is it can become a very insular activity where you don’t always see situations that may be arising,” said Mike. “So it’s always interesting to have another set of eyes to come and look at the place where you’re working and we find that a great benefit.”
Mike Fielden has also set up a new company called Off-Piste Agri Ltd which is the UK contact for the PistenBully.