Worker Safety & Bonsucro Supporting decent work for sugarcane workers

Working in sugarcane production may expose workers to fire hazards, toxic substances, repetitive action and overexposure to sunlight and heat stress for example. The ability of workers to perform their job safely and in a professional environment is an important pillar of social sustainability and economic sustainability for the employers.

Field worker, Nicaragua. Photo: Joe Woodruff / Bonsucro

In the sugarcane sector, safe environment means having free access to training and to free, reliable and effective safety equipment as well as information on key risks and emergency procedures and protocols and, specifically for cane cutters, regular breaks and rests and access to potable water. Certified operators are assessed by independent auditors to ensure that the above items are well addressed in a Health & Safety Management Plan, and that workers receive the training needed at least once every 5 years, besides having free access to Personal Protective Equipment such as goggles, helmets, protection boots, ear plugs, and other necessary equipment to perform their functions.

Mill worker, Nicaragua. Photo: Joe Woodruff / Bonsucro

There are several indicators in the Bonsucro Production Standard that relate to workers’ safety, but for the purposes of public reporting Bonsucro focuses on accident rate at farms and mills. This is calculated as number of accidents per million hours worked. The Bonsucro Standard requires that certified producers do not exceed 15 accidents per million hours worked in the mill and 45 in the field (defined as injuries with subsequent worker absence). Although the standard was defined with higher levels of accident for farm operations, we note that results show a considerably lower accident rate for farm activities (3.81) than for mill activities (4.51).

By observing the evolution of the core 34 mills, which have been certified since season 2011/12, we identify better performance at mill and farm level compared to average mills and a regular decrease in the accident rate, which is not the case of the average of all certified operators. At mill level, the accident rate for Bonsucro core 34 certified was 30% lower than the average of all certified mills and 8% lower than non-core certified mills. We could estimate that on the long run, Bonsucro certified mills have achieved better result in terms of accident frequency rate. A further study would need to evaluate the cause and mechanisms for the continuous decrease in the number of accidents and how Bonsucro certification might have promoted this continuous improvement.

In the 2016 Members’ Annual Report, 56% of the mills that reported health and safety improvements said that the Bonsucro Production Standard either contributed or accelerated that improvement. This is confirmed by the data from certification.

We note that 93.5% of certified industrial operations have complied with the requirements of the Standard (the few mils that did not achieve the target are required to carry out time-bound corrective action plans to address them for the subsequent audit-period), whereas in the agricultural side of operations, 100% of certified farms have complied with the requirements. These numbers may demonstrate the level of professionalization and attention to Health & Safety plans and procedures in certified sugarcane operators.

Outcome Report 2017

This text is taken from the Bonsucro Outcome Report 2017.


All photos: Joe Woodruff / Bonsucro

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