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Safety without borders [Peter Mitham]

KENNEWICK, WA – Knowing what the competition is doing is one reason many BC winemakers and grapegrowers attend the annual meeting of Washington Winegrowers each winter in Kennewick, Washington.

Another is to learn from growers who are dealing with a climate very similar to that of the Okanagan, a watershed that feeds into the Columbia Basin and forms part of the fertile inland growing region of the Northwest.

This year, business management took the spotlight, including the challenge of farm safety.

Carelessness knows no borders, as Pete Hedges of Hedges Family Estate on Red Mountain illustrated in his personal account of being caught inside a bladder press during the 2011 grape harvest.

Hedges wanted to check a repair he’d made to the press a few days earlier but the bladder wouldn’t rotate into the position designated for safe entry. Since it wouldn’t move, he didn’t disconnect the power to the rubber bladder that squeezes the grapes before inserting himself to check the repair.

Upon entering, Hedges heard the press start to rotate, trapping him. Bones broke and organs punctured.

Fortunately, a vineyard worker happened by and was able to cut the power and rescue Hedges, who now has a metal rod in his spine.

Hedges made a relatively quick recovery but he knows his demise could have been just as quick.

His situation is one any farmer could face because everyone has taken a shortcut now and then, gauging the risk to be minimal.

Probability and severity

Risk, as Derrick Jarvis, director of corporate safety and health with E&J Gallo in Modesto, California, told growers, is a question of probability and severity. The probability of something happening may not seem significant but if the consequences when it happens lead to severe injury or death, then it’s worth addressing.

“The absence of injury doesn’t necessarily mean the presence of safety,” he said. “Our focus should shift from achieving zero injuries to reducing exposure.”

According to Canadian Agricultural Safety Association statistics released last month, rollovers, runovers and entanglements with machinery account for up to half of all farm fatalities each season.

Speaking from the perspective of a large winery with 4,500 employees, Jarvis is well aware of the range of possibilities for workplace accidents. When it comes to equipment guards, for instance, he said there’s one simple rule: “If they can stick their finger in it, guard it.”

Other speakers told growers that any farm business with 10 or more employees should have a safety committee that meets regularly to review safety protocols.

And any farm that has workers should have a written accident prevention program, said Jeff Lütz, safety director with the Washington Farm Bureau. The program should outline protocols for both preventing accidents and responding to them if and when they do happen.

Protocols should also include disciplinary, or corrective measures, to address safety breaches.

“A disciplinary action plan isn’t for punishment, it’s for corrective action,” Lütz said. “It’s about moving people where they need to be.”

Rules aren’t perfect

Rules and regulations aren’t the whole story, however.

“They’re baselines,” Jarvis said. “They’re not perfect. It’s all how effective we are at implementing them.”

Jarvis encouraged growers to focus on a few key areas – “the things that end up seriously injuring or killing people.”

These things include confined space entry; hazardous energy (including gravity, something WorkSafeBC has been addressing through programs addressing falls from heights); hazardous chemicals; vehicles (such as tractors and forklifts); electricity, fire or explosions, and heat illness.

Growers should aim to make hazard control as independent of workers as possible through a so-called “hierarchy of control” that begins with eliminating hazards where possible.

“We can’t eliminate all hazards,” he said. “What we want to control is our exposure.”

This is where subsequent levels of the hierarchy come into play. Some hazards can be eliminated by modifying equipment to be safer, such as installing guards around moving parts or ensuring adequate ventilation and air circulation.

Raising awareness of the hazard among workers is next, followed by training programs and stronger protocols that train workers how to manage the hazards themselves. When all else fails, personal protective devices that protect workers from the hazards are in order.

The investment pays off, Lütz said, in lower premiums – a message both WorkSafeBC and AgSafe have been preaching to BC growers.

Better safety protocols can lead to lower premiums, which benefits those who pay them – in Washington State, the employee, and in BC, the farm owner.

“It’s about money,” Lütz said, encouraging teamwork to maintain farm safety. “If you don’t [stay safe], it comes out of your pocket.”

CLBC February 2017

Vol.103 Issue 5
MARCH  2017

CLBC March 2017