Articles Posted in Agricultural Work Injuries

It’s been nearly 55 years since two crashes resulted in a total of 59 farmworker deaths. That was in 1963, and it spurred Congress to declare that this serious risk to migrant workers was inexcusable, prompting the passage of the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act.bus

But today, even still, migrant workers and farmworkers continue to be at heightened risk of crashes and transportation-related injuries and fatalities.

Take, for example, the bus that crashed in November 2015 on a highway near Little Rock, Arkansas, when 18 Mexican guest workers were being transported from the citrus groves of Florida to the pumpkin and beet fields of Michigan. The motorcoach in which they were traveling sideswiped a barrier and a concrete bridge support. Five workers were killed and seven more severely injured.

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Much has been written about the awful conditions at poultry plants throughout the U.S. (and particularly in the South). But a new report by Oxfam America reveals a whole new level of ugly. restroomsymbol

According to the 15-page report, entitled “No Relief: Denial of Bathroom Breaks in the Poultry Industry,” workers at these facilities are so routinely denied the right to use the bathroom at work, many have taken to wearing diapers during their shift. Some lower their food and drink intake to dangerous levels to avoid the urgent need to use the restroom. Women who are menstruating and pregnant often suffer the most. In general, women are biologically more susceptible to bladder-related infections. In many cases, workers are suffering infections, such as urinary tract infections, and bowel and bladder damage as a result of being forced to remain on the line when they desperately need to use the restroom.

Not only does this kind of practice offend workers’ dignity, it is a serious threat to their health. They endure not just the pain and discomfort of being unable to use the restroom, they suffer the emotional scars of humiliation and the severe stress of concern for their job security.  Continue reading

One construction worker was killed and two others were seriously injured when a wall collapsed onto them at a construction site in Brooklyn, NY recently. The three men were pinned under a pile of heavy cinder blocks, and one of them didn’t make it out alive. He was just 19-years-old, according to a report of the incident by The New York Times.
It should perhaps be unsurprising that the local Department of Buildings received a complaint earlier this year regarding potentially unsafe working conditions at the site. According to that complaint, workers weren’t wearing face masks during asbestos abatement work. The complaint also noted that a wall on site was “not stable.”

The wall that fell onto the trio was reportedly a retaining wall, though it’s not clear if it’s the same one the previous caller referenced.
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In light of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal to allow work-speed increases within the nation’s poultry processing plants, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights heard testimony from work safety advocates asserting that such action would not only increase the risk of foodborne illness, but worker injuries as well.
Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyers know that North Carolina ranks No. 4 in the country’s poultry processing industry, employing some 28,000 workers statewide and producing some 3.7 billion pounds of chicken. That represents more than 25 percent of our state’s total agricultural take for the year.

And yet, workers in these plants frequently suffer serious injuries, though they are vastly under-reported. A 2013 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center called “Unsafe at These Speeds” focuses on Alabama’s poultry industry, interviewing more than 300 workers and culling federal data from the Bureau of Labor and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Alabama ranks third in the nation for poultry production.
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A family man from Trenton was killed in a workplace accident at a North Carolina cotton gin warehouse recently after taking a second job to earn extra money for Christmas gifts. WCTI 12 reports there were no witnesses, but family members are speculating that a large cotton bale fell on the 62-year-old man while operating or working near a forklift at the Jones County warehouse.
Gastonia workers’ compensation lawyers know that when worker safety does not take precedent at a work site, serious and fatal accidents can happen. Large machinery and farm equipment present many dangers, especially when employers don’t take the initiative to provide workers with proper training on how to operate them safely.

We posted recently on our North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog that the fatality rate in the farming industry in 2009 was 24.7 deaths per 100,000 workers. In many cases, overturned tractors or farm equipment is a common cause of death for farmers.

According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, the Agriculture Safety and Health Bureau conducted 76 farming industry compliance inspections in 2010. More than 60 percent of the inspections resulted in citations. In 2010, a total of $73,025 in penalties was issued in North Carolina as a result of 182 violations in agriculture safety and health.

In the Trenton incident, the retired farmer was conscious when help arrived but he suffered from a traumatic injury with severe lacerations to his head, face and left side. He was taken to Lenoir Memorial Hospital by ambulance and later transported by helicopter to Pitt County Memorial Hospital where he died following surgery. The incident is under investigation by the North Carolina Department of Labor.

Administrative records from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) do not indicate any previous worker safety violations or citations at the cotton gin warehouse since its opening in 1998. The warehouse employs 50 to 99 workers and nets $10 to $20 million in revenue annually.

The Department of Environmental Health and Safety at Iowa State University offer these safety tips to farmers while operating large farm equipment:

-Never attempt to operate equipment without being trained or reading the operator’s manual.

-Wear protective equipment like heavy gloves or boots, eye or ear protection, and overalls that fit properly.

-Most farm equipment is meant for one person so never carry or transport a passenger on sprayers, combines, tractors, fork lifts or other types of equipment.

-All farm machinery should come equipped and never be operated without protective safety guards.

-Only operate a tractor equipped with Roll-over Protective Structures.

-Falling Object Protective Structures should always come equipped on front-end loaders or other farming equipment that present a hazard for falling debris or struck-by accidents.

-Develop a system of hand gestures when using loud machinery that allows you to communicate with other workers in a safe manner.

-Kill the engine when leaving a piece of machinery sitting stationary, especially when checking a maintenance problem or cleaning out a clogged area. Engage the brakes and remove the keys at the end of the workday.

-Drive at an appropriate speed for the task you are performing and never operate farm equipment under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
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The North Carolina Department of Labor is responsible for promoting the health and safety of over 4 million employees working in over 250,000 businesses or establishments throughout the state.

Asheville workers’ compensation lawyers understand that keeping track of this many employees must be difficult to the say the least. But it is as much up to the employer as it is the Department of Labor to keep these workers from getting injured on company time in Charlotte, Statesville or elsewhere in the state.
The N.C. Department of Labor recently released their 2010 annual report. In a two-part series we will summarize the report in an overview of the three Divisions followed by a more detailed look at the Bureaus within each Division.

The following is an overview of the Standards and Inspections Division, Occupational Safety & Health Division and Administration Division found in the 2010 Fiscal Year (FY) report.

Standards and Inspections Division
This Division is comprised of six bureaus which include: Apprenticeship and Training, Boiler Safety, Elevator and Amusement Device, Employment Discrimination, Mine & Quarry and Wage & Hour.

-In FY 2010, there were over 3,000 apprenticeship programs completed in North Carolina.

-The Boiler Safety Bureau found 2,771 violations during more than 51,000 inspections of pressure equipment.

-In FY 2010, there were more than 19,500 elevator inspections and 7,198 amusement devices evaluated throughout the year.

-Almost 800 complaints were received by the Employment Discrimination Bureau which resulted in 778 investigations being conducted at differed work sites.

-The Mine and Quarry Bureau inspected and evaluated 448 active and abandoned mines.

-Over 46,000 youth employment certificates were issued by the Wage and Hour Bureau. There were 51 youth employment complaints that needed investigated in FY 2010.

Occupational Safety & Health Division
A total of five bureaus make up the Occupational Safety and Health Division which include Agriculture Safety and Health, Compliance, Consultative Services, Education, Training and Technical Assistance and Planning, Statistics & Information Management.

-Over $73,000 in penalties was handed out by the Agriculture Safety and Health Bureau in relation to 182 violations found in companies throughout the state.

-The Compliance Bureau issued more than 10,000 violations resulting in over $5.8 million in penalties.

-There were almost 5,400 serious hazards issued by the Consultative Bureau in FY 2010.

-Over 300 courses, workshops or forums were offered by the Education, Training and Technical Assistance Bureau to help train over 7,500 employers and workers.

-In FY 2010, the Planning, Statistics and Information Management Bureau received 955 disclosure requests of which 850 were processed.

Administration Division
Several divisions make up Administration ranging from Budget to Communication to Legal Affairs. Some of the highlights for this Division include:

-The help desk responded to over 3,000 calls.

-A review was completed of rules and regulations to determine which ones were no longer needed.

Overall it looks like the N.C. Department of Labor did a lot of work last year and yet far too many occupational injuries and fatalities still occurred on the job in 2010. Too many North Carolina employers are committing violations for unsafe work environments on a daily basis, which puts workers at risk of serious injury or illness. On-site inspections and hefty penalties need to continue until employers get the message that unsafe work environments are unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.
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Tragedy recently rocked Atchison, Kansas, when a grain elevator exploded leaving six men dead and two seriously injured.

Our Hickory farm accident lawyers know that harvest season is a time when farmers and large agricultural operations face unique risks and the number of accidents increase during this season.
Working at a grain elevator is a physically demanding job, so it is no surprise that four of the six men killed were under the age of 25. Farmers take their corn and other products to grain elevators for storage until it is sold.

In a previous post on our North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog we discussed the dangers of combustible dust. The movement of the grain sends large amounts of highly combustible particles into the air. A spark from a machine can set the dust on fire, causing a devastating blast.

The destruction caused by this fatal blast postponed the body recovery efforts for three of the victims because the structure was too unstable. Among the fatalities were two grain inspectors, one having 16 years of experience inspecting facilities. Sadly one of the workers killed was due to be married in a few weeks.

The two injured workers were taken to the The University of Kansas Hospital. One worker was pushing grain cars with a locomotive outside the elevator when the blast happened. He ran when he saw the fireball, escaping without any injuries.

The investigation continues to determine what caused the explosion at a company reported to have an “exemplary” safety record.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics show more than 600 grain elevators explosions over the last several decades have occurred, causing more than 250 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries. Ohio, Louisiana, South Dakota, Illinois and Nebraska all had non-fatal grain fire or explosions last year.

Grain elevator safety has increased dramatically since the establishment of rules and protocols in the late 1970s after 50 people were killed in explosions in four states over a six-day period.

Here is some valuable information from the North Carolina Department of Labor’s A Guide to Safety and Health in Feed and Grain Mills relating to grain elevator explosions.

The following have to exist simultaneously for a dust explosion to occur:

-Grain dust has to be present as the primary fuel source.

-There needs to be oxygen.

-A confined space.

-Some type of ignition source needs to be present. For example, hot bearings, cutting and welding, belt slippage, or a foreign object caught in equipment are likely causes. Less likely causes could be lightning, spontaneous combustion, stone or metal sparks, and static electricity.

How to control grain dust accumulation:

-Have vacuums in areas where there is constant dust accumulation.

-Use a wash-down procedure in areas that allow water.

-Slow the flow of the grain to cut down on the dust.

-Use dust-control systems like cyclones or filters.

-Use a Compressed air, blow-down procedure.
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