Two Men Killed in Almond Shaker Machine Accident
Two men were crushed to death in a machine-related accident at an almond orchard in southwest Fresno County on January 5, 2019. Fresno County Fire responded to the incident at about 11:15 am at Vista Verde Ranch on Harlan and Stanislaus Avenues where they found both men pinned under a large almond shaker machine. The men, identified as Arnold Torres, 66, of Lemoore and Angel Barajas, 31, of Cantua Creek were pronounced dead at the scene.
I would like to take this time to express my deepest condolences to family members and friends of Mr. Torres and Mr. Barajas.
According to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, the men were operating the almond shaker machine when it stopped working. Torres, a mechanic, and Barajas, the machine operator, tried to fix it. One of the men went underneath the machine to disconnect the hydraulic hoses for the shaker arm. However, according to reports, they failed to put the arm down on the ground before-hand. When they disconnected the hoses, the arm fell and crushed both men. Other workers found the victims trapped under the machine and called 911. The California Occupational Health and Safety Administration (Cal OSHA) is handling the investigation to determine if any safety violations led to the accident.
Remembering the Victims
Torres was a well-known foreman with over 50 years of experience in the agriculture industry. His daughter, Jessica, is still trying to process how the freak accident could have happened. She said her father always knew the steps to take and he always took precaution with his job.
Barajas’ family and friends remembered him as a beloved member of the community. They said he will be missed dearly. A memorial service was held on January 10 for Barajas at the Our Lady of Lourdes Mission in Cantua Creek.
Following Safety Protocols
As Cal OSHA looks into what led up to the fatal accident of these two workers, Fresno County Sheriff’s deputies are emphasizing how these types of accidents can be avoided. Lieutenant Frances Devins stressed that machine workers need to make sure they are following all the proper protocols to help eliminate accidents that could get them injured or killed.
Putting Safety First
Nut harvesting is a dangerous job. During the process, multiple heavy machines are put in use including a shaker, harvester, cart, trailer, and forklift just to name a few. These machines are loud and can pose a serious threat to workers who are on the ground or who are unseen due to poor visibility caused by dust and other factors around the machines. Below are a few safety tips for workers and machine operators:
- Workers should wear reflective vests at all times so they can be easily seen.
- Machine operators should use signals such as a horn to alert those on the ground.
- Training should be done for each machine.
- Workers should inspect the equipment before beginning work.
- Any hazards and unsafe conditions in the orchard should be marked and reported to the employers.
- Distractions, such as cell phones should not be allowed while working with the machine.
- Lighting should be provided in dark areas.
- Workers should be warned of any hazards in the work area, including moving along ditches, canals or electrical wires.
- Specialty tools should be used during maintenance to ensure that a worker’s body parts are a safe distance from any dangerous exposure.
- Clogs or jams should not be cleared or cleaned while equipment is in operation.
The Stages of Almond Harvesting
For almond growers, harvest season is the busiest time of the year which spans from August to mid-October. Harvesting almonds require multiple steps and growers carefully plan each stage of the harvesting process to reap the reward. The entire process involves the use of specialized equipment and highly skilled operators, technicians, growers, managers and hullers and shellers.
During this stage, a shaker machine goes to every almond tree, clamps onto the tree trunk and shakes the almonds off the branches. The almonds will then spend about a week basking in the sun to allow the kernel time to dry.
Once the sun has done its job, the second stage begins. During this stage, workers navigate a sweeper machine up and down the orchard rows to arrange the almonds into a neat pile down the center of each tree.
When the almonds are in position, workers use a pick-up machine, also called a harvester to drive over the rows of almonds and collect them. The nuts are then dropped into a cart located directly behind the harvester.
Once the cart is full, it leaves the orchard to the edge of the field where the nuts are dumped onto a conveyor belt, called an elevator and into a large semi-trailer.
Finally, when all the almonds have been loaded into the trailer, they are trucked off to a nearby area to be hulled and shelled.
Watch YouTube Video: Day in Agriculture: California Almond Harvest. In the video below, California almond grower, Jim Morehead, takes us through the almond harvesting process at his orchard.
Fresno Farming Accident Lawyer
I’m Ed Smith, a Fresno farming accident lawyer. Agriculture is a huge part of the Fresno communities and the Central Valley. However, farming is also a dangerous business with a tendency to cause serious injuries or death. If you or someone you know has suffered an injury in a farming accident, call me at (559) 377-7676 or (800) 404-5400 for my free, friendly and compassionate advice.
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Two Men Killed in Almond Shaker Machine Accident: Law Offices of Edward A. Smith
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