Grape Picking Season Carries Hidden Dangers
I’m Ed Smith, a Stockton Farming Accident Attorney. The grape-picking season throughout central and northern California kicked off to an early start in late July, with some vineyards reporting 20 ton yields before the start of August. For most workers, though, their season began in California’s southern counties in May and will continue through November, bringing with it the potential for minor to serious injuries.
California Produces Nearly 90 Percent of all US Grapes
The grape harvest is an important time in California as California produces nearly 90 percent of all grapes grown in the United States, according to an Iowa State University specialist. The thousands of seasonal and permanent workers hired to pick these nearly 7 million tons of grapes face countless dangers throughout the harvest, but the greatest risk of accident comes from working with mechanized harvesters.
The Risk of the Night Harvest
Nearly all grape harvesters begin work before 4am when cooler temperatures help protect the delicate skin of the grapes. This darkness, though, presents several dangers to workers. Nearly 50 percent of California grape workers work alongside mechanized harvesters in low visibility conditions. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) regulates the visibility of worker’s clothing to help decrease the risk of accident. These regulations are often poorly observed, though, as anyone who has ever driven past the harvest can attest. Many workers are wearing basic clothing with little reflective material, increasing their risk of being struck by the harvesters on mechanized harvesting operations or by the trucks transporting grapes to the storage facilities on hand-harvested operations.
Watch the following Youtube video to observe Harvesting Grapes at Night:
Lighting on the Mechanized Harvesters
Additionally, Cal/OSHA offers recommendation for lighting on the mechanized harvesters. Requirements have yet to be fully specified, though, again increasing the risk of workers being struck by vehicles operating in the vineyards. In a 1994 accident, a mechanized harvester struck a worker who was blinded by the lights of another mechanized harvester, illustrating the dangers of even a properly lit machine.
Injuries from Human-Machine Interactions
As with the accident mentioned above, most serious grape harvesting accidents occur because of these mechanized harvesters, regardless of whether or not the workers are operating in darkness or low visibility conditions. In one instance in 2005, a California grape worker fractured his hand and required hospitalization after a harvester tipped over, crushing his hand in the mechanized sorting system within the harvester. In perhaps the worst documented grape harvest industry, a French worker was run over by the harvester he was operating in 2014. It is common practice for workers to work alongside a self-propelled harvester, increasing the risk of this type of accident.
Watch the following Youtube video to see a short video of Mechanical Grape Harvesting:
Packing and Production Facility Injuries
While the risk of injury in the field is high, especially for workers picking alongside or near mechanized harvesters, many injuries also occur in the packing and production facilities of many grape products. Perhaps one of the most notorious wine-making injuries occurred in 2014 when Santa Rita Hills wine-maker Chris Bratcher lost his hand to a machine used to crush grapes.
Working with and around the machines associated with the grape harvest carry large risks that are often poorly documented and explored. The cases above provide a few brief examples of the serious injuries and even death associated with the grape harvest.
Following last year’s losses from a poor harvest, many California grape growers are pushing their workers to ensure a successful harvest. As most workers begin long before daylight and work alongside powerful machines to ensure this success, the risk of injury due to accident greatly increases. Some growers are even making their employees sign liability waivers, recognizing the risks of this vital California harvest but hiding from its cost. Although mechanized harvesters have decreased the risk of worker’s compensation-related claims, they have increased the risk of more serious, catastrophic injuries. It is important for grape workers to be aware of the risk and advocate for themselves in the event of injury. If you or someone you know has been injured in California’s grape harvest seek legal advisement.
Stockton Farming Accident and Wrongful Death Attorney
I’m Ed Smith, a Stockton Farming Accident Attorney. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a farming accident in Northern California, please call me at (209) 227-1931 or (800) 404-5400 for fast, free and friendly advice.
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Image Attribution: Wikimedia Commons