Aerial fertiliser spreading company Super Air marks a key milestone of more than four years with no lost time due to injuries (LTIs) this month.
On December 16, Super Air will celebrate 1500 LTI-free days, the result of a focussed commitment to health and safety which commenced in 2007.
About 50 pilots, loader drivers, engineers and other support staff work for the Ballance Agri-Nutrients-owned aviation company.
On a busy day Super Air’s pilots can each take off and land about 100 times – often on small farmer-owned grass strips – spreading hundreds of tonnes of fertiliser. Compare this with a commercial domestic airline pilot who might do six commuter flights a day using well-maintained sealed runways.
Super Air Manager Graeme Martin says he draws the comparison not to minimise the work commercial airline pilots undertake, but to reinforce the importance of safety in all facets of the aviation industry.
“Aviation safety is a very high priority for the regulator CAA, but agricultural aviation is a sector requiring an increased focus on safety that reflects the unique challenges faced by this industry, such as the large number of take offs and landings,” Mr Martin says.
‘We have to acknowledge our industry didn’t have the best safety reputation. Whether that was deserved or not, our focus at Super Air has been to turn that around.”
Mr Martin says this was a shift in culture towards a more proactive engagement of health and safety practices from all staff.
“That’s been the single biggest contributor towards our achievement. We’re thinking about safety more and it becomes ingrained in everything we do.”
As a part of that process, Super Air gained tertiary accreditation in the ACC Workplace Safety Management Practices Audit within a year of committing to it. A tertiary ranking recognises the company has a fully developed health and safety system with staff working to a prescribed process documented in a manual and striving for continual improvement.
“Our staff are extremely skilled people who are very good at their jobs, and part of that is understanding and prioritising safe practises within the company and identifying and then mitigating any risks.”
Mr Martin says the Super Air team has worked extremely hard to reduce hazards and maintain a cautious approach to the job.
“We’re in a high pressure industry where we need to balance the increasing demands of our customers without taking risks.”
Mr Martin says he expects the agricultural aviation industry to be busy this summer and autumn with strong farmer returns leading to increased investment in fertiliser.
“This is all the more reason to have robust safety procedures in place that are understood by every employee.”
The last LTI at Super Air was the result of a fatality of a pilot.
“We work in a high risk industry, but we’ve looked at what we do and changed what we could to improve safety. We also work with our farmer customers who are responsible for maintaining the airstrips we use on their farms and encourage them to be proactive in ensuring they are up to scratch.”
Super Air was the first fixed-wing aviation company to achieve AIRCARE accreditation. AIRCARE is a robust safety assurance programme focus on both flight and environmental safety.
The programme was introduced by the Aviation Industry Association of New Zealand this year to drive best practice with both compulsory compliance of civil aviation rules and voluntary compliance of its Environmental Management System in order to receive accreditation.