As farm trucks carrying onions, corn and other produce fill highways and heavy equipment plows fields throughout rural Oregon, agricultural safety becomes a key point of concern for farming operations.
Alan Cleaver, who owns Columbia Basin Onion and several other agricultural operations in Hermiston, said recently he had one of his truck drivers get rear-ended by a car as he was coming up to speed on an on-ramp. Cleaver said the driver of the car was on their cellphone and failed to notice the onion truck coming up to speed.
While he is thankful that no one was killed, Cleaver was once again reminded of the dangers that face agriculture workers, especially during harvest season.
“Safety takes a lot of time to instill in your employees and it takes them believing that you are looking out for them,” he said. “With all of the new people during harvest time, we have to take the time to instill that belief into everyone.”
Cleaver said the required safety trainings and meetings are an important part of the process, however, the biggest aspect is getting employees to look out for one another and for those out on the roads to keep their eyes open as well.
“We have mostly mitigated the safety concerns around the farms,” he said. “But we have 50 or more trucks out on the highway and that’s outside of our farms. We just can’t control what happens there.”
Jared Gutierrez, general manager at Columbia Basin Onion, explained in order to get people to look out for one another, the company elects safety teams that meet once a month. These teams are made up of employees who work on the plant floor and are able to see the chronic issues or safety concerns that may come up within the processing center. Safety team members serve for six months to a year before being swapped out for other employees.
“People become more aware when they take pride in their facility,” Gutiierrez said. “We strive for safety and it helps to create a healthier and safer workforce.”
Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration puts in place regulations to help keep workers safe through regulations surrounding sanitation, fire protection and equipment use, as well as numerous others. Aaron Corvin, a spokesperson for Oregon OSHA, said resources such as the “Cultivate a Safe Ag Workplace” guide can help employers and employees to better understand the regulations in place.
The guide, which covers identifying and controlling hazards as well as employee education, is published by Oregon OSHA as a guide to the workplace safety rules that directly apply to agricultural operations.
“Cultivating safe farm practices requires knowledge and commitment,” Corvin said. “When we talk about knowledge and commitment we’re talking about building the capacity to identify hazards, eliminate or control hazards, and to ensure that everyone knows how to work safely and applies that knowledge on the job.”
In addition to OSHA requirements, Pacific Power warns about safety issues working and operating equipment around power lines and other electrical infrastructure. Pacific Power advises that equipment operators should be aware of the height and width of their equipment when operating in close proximity to electrical lines to avoid snagging overhead lines or poles.
Additional electrical safety guidelines include the use of three-hole, grounded outlets with face plates, lockout switches for specific sites and using licensed electricians to inspect any suspect wiring.