Welcome to the Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC page discussing harvester machines, farm labor vehicles, accidents, injuries, the law, and compensation. I am attorney Michael Ehline. I am one of the few harvester, chipping and shredding machine accident attorneys in the Golden State. I am an expert in the function and safety protocols required for the construction and use of these farming contraptions. And with the help of my trusted staff, I have built up a proven track record litigating and resolving these curious and tragic events.
Below, I will discuss some history of California farming, harvesting, and injuries inherent in the agricultural industry as it relates to laborers and machine cropping. Also below, I cover the biomechanics, causes, and prevention of mechanical and non-mechanical harvesting related injuries. We won’t cover wage and hour, employment law, or discrimination disputes here. But you can check out the employment law section here for that information. So here we go. To begin with, California’s climate is rivaled commercially by few in its fruit, grain, and vegetable growing capacity, as well as its beauty.
Back injuries are so prevalent with farm laborers, one sector we discuss, grapes, has its own work-related musculoskeletal disorder (“WMSD”) called a WRMD. But injuries to nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and vertebrae remain prevalent in the agricultural sector. Picker and harvester work contributes significantly to back problems. And it can make pre-existing issues worse over extended periods.
A conservative estimate of the costs of medical and other bills of over more 3,000 reported back injuries in the agricultural industry were based on a study involving more than 98,000 workers’ compensation claims from 45 states that included California. The staggering total amounted to over $22 million in annual spinal cord injury charges to taxpayers. Even with new and automated technologies replacing expensive laborers swinging a flail, sickle, or winnower, workers and machine attendants will always be needed.
Why? Because someone still needs to clear jams and obstructions during the machine’s use. And mechanics and helpers be required for regular and emergency repairs. Many of these machines have chopping, razor-sharp blades, and other threats. Noteworthy here is that it is precisely these periods that a machine can suck or pull a worker in by catching a pant leg or shirt sleeve. When this happens, the probability of someone getting killed extremely high.
Most of all, someone is always at risk, no matter how many mitigating factors the agricultural, industrial complex takes. As most any visitors to the Golden State has observed, many pristine areas exist for the growing and harvesting of cash crop vegetables and plants, besides marijuana. Also, with at least 270 days span between its comparably light frost season, even the most vulnerable above-ground agriculture can survive to harvest.
So unlike the Red River Valley, for example, freezing crops are almost non-existent in California farming. But in light of the tremendous costs involved with manual and even skilled labor, the race to replace farmhands with automated machines is on. And the technology could potentially reduce agricultural injuries and jobs in one fell swoop. But for now, machines are a cause for concern, as the injuries, they do cause, are often fatal.
We recently discussed driver distraction and fast food accidents here, and obesity and junk food here. But when you think about it, eateries are a link in the chain of agriculture that requires human laborers. Few can imagine an In-N-Out Burger without the option of fresh or grilled onions. And when we choose fine dining, we often expect wine made from California’s best grapes, and sugar refined from the most excellent sugar beets.
So it makes sense that a quarter or more jobs in the U.S. are connected in some way to the food and agriculture sectors! (Source). As noted above, California has few ordinary growers, with its tenant and factory production monopolies over state agricultural production. From marketing, sales, and transportation, huge conglomerates and factory interests even created the so-called “Sugar Trust.” And this is a nationwide phenomenon. (Source).
Was the Terminator movie series right about the rise of the machines? Possibly so. There are all types of human-controlled devices that help people do things faster, and sometimes better than humans. Some machines make coffee, others shred paper, and others help farmers get food out of the ground without employing hundreds of laborers, for example. Modernly, human-operated machines exist to support the process of gathering a ripe crop from the field and getting it to market.
At the backbone of the reaping process is, of course, the mechanical harvesting combine in its many forms, shapes, and sizes. Most of all, efficiently run combines and harvesters remain the backbone of the reaping season for many types of mature crops. Many of California’s fruit, vegetable, grain farms, and vineyards are reliant in some way on machine harvesters. Also, called combines, or combine harvesters, these particular machines help farmers and laborers efficiently reap in some of California’s mainstay crops like sugar beets, onions, potatoes, and others discussed below.
There are many types of human-operated, self-propelled, and farm truck towed harvesting machines and accouterments. Below we will discuss the main harvesting and farm machines used to help California farmers and workers.
Before we begin, readers need to understand that not the same machines can harvest all fields in the same way. Other crops cannot be machine harvested at all. Why is that? Besides the apparent nomenclature differences necessitated by engineering issues (e.g., some plants are high up, and others buried in the earth), the number one answer is that machines can cause bruising to horticulture.
The skin on fruits and vegetables, for example, provides a protective barrier, preserving the tillage yield until it reaches the consumer’s refrigerator or cupboard. Bruising of fruits and vegetables leads to rapid rot and spoilage of entire vats. So far, traditional machine harvesting has been most effective when harvesting crops with harder shells, such as grains, nuts, beets, sugar cane, etc.
True. With advances in science and technology, machine harvesting of traditionally hand-picked crops has exploded in recent years. Now, seeders and breeders can genetically modify the hardness and thickness of vegetables and fruits to make machine reaping more feasible. Also, the tools themselves are becoming softer on the items they pick, strip, and sort.
Robots are becoming more and more specialized for the types of crops and more ginger methods of stripping the valuable materials from the shrubs. Because of the way individual plants grow, harvesting machines have adapted to their particular evolving circumstances. For example, some species of beets and carrots are softer variants of underground roots. Other species have harder skins and can withstand gathering blades, rollers, and shakers stripping and cleaning, but without bruising.
Like potatoes, combines for gathering roots and bulbs are adapted with low to the ground vacuums and intake tillers, for example. Comparing these combines to those used for corn and wheat, you can see the size and height of the machines are different. And this is because these are above-ground plants, bushes, and trees that are reaped differently.
Below is a list of the types of harvesters used in much of California’s agricultural harvesting process. Also discussed are the various types of personal injuries attendant with these machines. The first class of devices we discuss is “Harvestors.” These harvesting contraptions remain more familiar in specific types of California agriculture.
The next types of machines are ancillary to harvesters. Most of all, these are used in support of harvesting crops and readying them for markets.
These machines are:
The main idea behind all harvesting machines is to tenderly remove the plants from the soil while separating the valuable fruits, grains, or vegetables from the other organic parts of the plant. The ancillary machines are there to help move the yield to the various departure points. The more dangerous mechanisms are discussed below, but each machine comes with risks of bodily harm during use or maintenance.
Besides farm trucks, many other links in the chain of agricultural commerce exist. The industry name for a farm truck that pulls heavy trailers and looks a lot like a diesel tractor, is a yard truck. California Vehicle Code Section 4751d, 38010, and 38012 define yard trucks, also known as yard goats, trailer spotters, terminal tractors, or jockeys are purpose-built to haul trailers within or about freight operation yards, including docking bays at the Port of Long Beach, for example. Their purpose is to move merchandise or goods to a storage or loading bay area. Big rigs, prime movers, and other Jake Braking semis transport refined, distilled, or raw products to various loading docks at wholesalers, retail grocers, train and sea docks. Smaller trucks and delivery vehicles continue deliveries to other merchants, trading locally and far away.
To recap, each combine is manufactured based upon the type of crop. Better technologies and growing methods are moving towards one type of machine with bolt-on or retrofit capabilities. Farmers and related workers are most at risk for repetitive movement spine injuries, whereas farming machines place workers at risk for instantaneous, catastrophic injuries. So let’s look at our first example of agricultural accidents and injuries, using the example of the dry bean harvest in California. Dry bean harvesting machines are first on our list of potentially dangerous devices to a farm worker or related tradesman.
Everyone loves tacos and beans in sunny California. But many ethnic types of beans exist besides Mexican, or Cuban style beans. There are entire medleys of beans.
Mainly, there are two types of beans:
Asians seem to desire green beans like Edamame, and dry beans like Adzuki. Southern Americans seem to want dry bean varieties like Pinto Beans. And Central Americans like El Savadoreans favor smooth and silky red beans with their meals. Green beans and dry beans are not the same when it comes to harvesting machines. Green beans, spinach, and corn use similar types of harvesters. So scroll down to corn, to learn about those softer touch machine injuries involving combines.
The United States is the number one producer of dry beans. Yearly, U.S. farmers plant around 1.5 to 1.7 million acres of edible dry beans. (Source). And this is why dry bean harvesting machines are at the top of the list. Just by the sheer volume of the harvest, statistically, the chances are greater for a machine injury than a less grown commodity.
As seen below, California ranks number seven in dry bean production. So although it is not the top crop in the Golden State, we produce our fair share of dry beans. And thousands of workers are involved in the seeding and harvesting process annually.
California and dry beans sort of go hand in hand. With its large Mexican-American population, Pinto beans have become a popular food among all North Americans. And this remains especially evident with consumers in Los Angeles and other high Latino populations. Here is a map showing U.S. dry beans produced by variety. And there are plenty of International Food stores around Los Angeles selling all types of dried, bottled and canned beans. Again, everyone in the chain of commerce is a potential personal injury victim.
Dry bean harvesters are a type of mechanical thresher or bean combine. The idea is that a “pickup” that looks like a giant electrical shaver mows the beans into a shaker and beaters. (See example). These inner chambers vibrate the beans away from other organic materials like soil and pebbles. So like most combines, it pulls plant material in and shoots separated materials out. But it is not a chopping machine like some others discussed below.
The contraption will generally be manufactured with a pickup, multiple beaters, and shakers. Other component parts include fan systems and conveyor belts with elevators. Like the Gold Rush TV series, conveyor belts will carry the suitable material to a storage bin, and possibly a spreader at the rear that ejects other materials.
For years, The Bidwell Bean Thresher Company was the only widely available manufacturer of bean harvesters. Modernly there are many, all with different features and prices. Lubricating, maintenance, and cleaning out the combine are usually the times that workers get hurt or killed.
Here is an example of an owner’s manual for a popular dry bean combine. As you can see, in addition to the dangers of being sucked into the pickup, the operator’s manual states that there is an exposed, “rotating driveline.” Also, there are overhead bin dangers, flying objects, and projectile warnings, and high-pressure oil leaks to worry about. And right there on page 12, it says don’t work on the belts or equipment while the machine is running.
The risk of eye injury is always present in any machine that has rapidly rotating teeth or pistons. And this remains true even when not repairing the machines. So the manufacturer recommends that workers always wear eye protection. And there is still the risk of being crushed or run over. Last, many safety protocols for clearing blockages and safe operation of the machine are listed.
First of all, these machines are crucial in back injury avoidance for workers. Beans grow low to the ground. Workers are constantly bending over at the waist to pull and pick. Because the crop is low to the field’s floor, the harvester contraption has its pickup low to the ground. Its function is to lift the beans and to rapidly split waste products into windrows by the use of rakes and pullers. Once elevated higher into the machine, the central conveyor belt feeds the material into the first beater.
After a series of blunt, rotating metal teeth, thresh the beans from their pods at high revolution, to thresh the product and break apart the clumped up beans. But like gold trammels, there is usually a process depending upon the type of machine that leads to additional beaters and shakers. All this powerful, moving equipment is at risk for a malfunction. If the machine throws off a loose blade, or something explodes, the people nearby are at risk for the concussion and fallout.
All of these fast-moving, distinct parts can become jammed or seized during the reaping process. When a jam occurs, other parts of the machine, like rotating rods, will be straining to work the rest of the unit. Pressure can build, and something is going to break, or fragment. Often, only excellent automatic failsafe devices can prevent things from getting out of hand.
Typically, workers on foot will follow along the field, in front of the vehicle. Their job is to throw boulders and other obstructions in the row from out of the path of the rapidly moving Combine. These workers must assure the machine’s intake, or conveyors don’t get jammed up or stuck. So these workers, often day laborers, briskly clear debris, as well as make sure no good beans are left behind.
But no matter how clear the tilled path seems, jams and breakdowns happen during harvest season. So laborers are essential, and many don’t have the right training in how to deal with a dry bean combine harvester.
We often hear about feet being injured of lobbed off by combine augers. Most of the time, the employer is trying to keep up a fast pace. So if a problem exists in the feeding mechanism, rather than turn off the machine, a field hand will walk next to the pickup and clear jams. But doing so risks clothing or jewelry and bodyparts being grabbed and sucked into the belts and feeds.
Besides this, imagine a broken belt or metal pieces flying at you at high speed because that is a real possibility with all these fast-moving, metal parts. But the number one way people get injured is when they are trying to clear out obstructions for the machine’s intake. Feet, finger, and even heads can get crushed and amputated in an instant. Of course, other injuries occur like diesel fume poisoning, toxic weed killer poisoning, and a variety of spinal cord personal injuries from repetitive bending and kneeling.
Most of all, the combine harvester is the number one death threat to workers. An experienced personal injury attorney who understands the limitations to compensation in workers’ compensation cases will be indispensable to an injured worker, or non-employee bystander. Only they can discover the potentially liable parties, and unravel all the defenses and roadblocks to making a plaintiff whole.
As the name suggests, sugar beets are related to table beets (Grandma’s Borscht comes to mind) but consumed rarely. Instead, they remain the primary source of table sugar and as fossil fuel substitutes.
Important: California remains the nation’s largest supplier of sugar beets. California is now the second-highest sugar-beet producing state. It yields precedence only to Colorado, which has long held the lead, with an annual average of about 200,000 acres, or nearly twice that of California. In tons produced, however, California is a much better second with 1,939,000 tons in 1936 compared to Colorado’s 2,227,000 tons. Other important sugar-beet states are Ohio, Michigan, Nebraska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah.
The counties of San Bernardino and San Benito, with their warm, desert-like climates, grow more than half of the state’s table beet inventories annually. In Imperial, for the past many years, combines have been a mainstay of the agricultural industry. Agriculture relies on these vehicles to enhance production and ensure that the harvests are adequately maintained.
Before the introduction of the harvester, three components made up harvesting grains: reaping, threshing, and finally winnowing.
NOTEWORTHY: Sugarbeet Harvesting in California Sugar beets account for 55% of U.S. sugar production, where 5,500,000 tons of sugar are consumed annually. Since 1870, 11 sugar factories had been constructed and profitably operated throughout California. Since the passage of NAFTA, sugar exports in California were hurt after being turned over to competitors in other countries.
And the last sugar beet factory in northern California closed in 2008, ending more than 140 years of beet production and thousands of jobs in those agricultural regions. Now, only one operating plant remains in the state (in the Imperial Valley).
California’s temperate zones, and with proper soil, production zones, have proven vital to the Sugar Beet markets. Our topography and great climate, drainage, and seepage make certain areas, such as in the Imperial Valley, a great place to grow beets. Water supply has always been a problem in California, which is another reason this deep-rooted vegetable is grown in the wetter areas of the state.
Also, it is not as hard on the soil as other crops. However, like any plants grown continuously and not fallowed, soil depletion can occur over time. So many farms will maintain multi-use combines because they will rotate crops like peas, green beans, alfalfa, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, and tomatoes.
Sugar beets are truly a local vegetable, primarily due to their size and weight. Transportation of this bulky commodity is costly. Because of this, sugar beets rarely get shipped further than a thousand miles from their farms. But the products distilled or derived from beets are quickly dispatched and sold worldwide. The labor involved in harvesting, packing, and shipping is still remarkable, even with the latest innovations in automation and safety advances.
Remarkably, like corn, sugar beets are a great fossil-fuel substitute, and they can make sugar. Some sugar beets get added to fuel ethanol production. Technically, converting a pure sugar to ethanol is a straightforward process requiring yeast fermentation. Contrast this with producing ethanol from starch, such as Sugar Beets. Beets are not a simple sugar; they are a complex carbohydrate, similar to corn or potatoes. So starch-based plants must be converted into simple sugars before they can become a biofuel. To do so, enzymes convert the plant starch into sugars first.
As you can see, California’s carbon fuel restrictions make beets a valuable source of energy for our state. But all beets are deeply rooted in the soil. And manually ripping them from the earth is very time consuming, physically strenuous, and likely to cause repetitive use back injuries, among others. Combine harvesters significantly reduce these problems, making harvesting far more efficient and economical. Sugar beet has evolved through time from a labor-intensive agricultural crop with a static yield to one that is highly mechanized and with steadily improving yield. But they also bring risks of injuries and death on an enormous scale.
In addition to the above, we have included some examples of Sugar Beet Harvesting Accidents and Associated Injuries in the News. Not all farm accidents are from the combines. But take a look and see the risks associated with the harvest.
Decedent, Erv Knutson, a 60-year-old male employee crane operator of 37 years, died at a Sugar Beet Cooperative when he was struck by a payloader outside a pallet loading area, based upon news reports. In that case, as part of the harvesting process, visibility obscuring steam vapors had developed due to condensation in the cold Minnesota weather. Of particular interest, a non-employee third-party contractor was the owner and operator of the offending payloader. (Source).
As you can see, this fact pattern screams of workplace-related health and safety problems. Steam decreased visibility, another person independently operating a dangerous machine. In California, the family may have had a shot at suing the employer and the third party for wrongful death. It takes a lawyer to make heads or toes of it all.
Again, it’s not always the harvesting machine that causes the injury. The entire harvesting process comes with risks, all the way to the unloading docks. For example, a twenty-eight-year-old beet plant worker, Anfesa Galaktionoff, died after falling into a piece of conveyor equipment meant to carry sugar beets into the refining factory. So Galaktionoff was crushed to death. (Source).
Below is a recent example of a Combine harvester injury recently reported by OSHA.
Accident: 202615324 — Report ID: 1054112 — Event Date: 09/26/2013
|Inspection||Open Date||SIC||Establishment Name|
|317338382||09/27/2013||0191||Thomas A Duyck & Vickie A Duyck|
At approximately 3:00 p.m. on September 26, 2013, Employee #1, with Thomas A Duyck & Vickie A Duyck, was operating a beet harvesting machine (a PTO) in a farm field. The machine became clogged with weeds and plant material. Employee #1 stopped the tractor and slowed the engine to an idle but did not shut the tractor off or disengage the PTO. Employee #1 entered the rear of the harvester and stood on a slow-moving conveyor while dislodging material with his foot and pulling it out by hand. His foot became caught between an open-slat conveyor and solid steel roller, and his leg was pulled in up to the knee. A coworker was able to quickly shut off the tractor and call emergency services. Employee #1 was hospitalized with a broken ankle and significant abrasions and contusions to his foot and leg. (Source).
In the above example, you can get an idea of the mechanism of injury. As noted earlier, the Harvester became clogged with debris. So Employee #1 kept the tractor at idle and went to clear the way. Here, the open slat conveyor and a solid steel roller grabbed and trapped the worker. No indication exists as to whether clothing or some other article like a shoelace is what began the pulling process. And had it not been for the co-worker stopping the machine, Employee #1 could have been rapidly killed. Either way, there will be permanent mental and physical complications for years to come.
On May 19, 2015, at 3:30 a.m., decedent and one of the defendant’s beet harvester machine operators were near their respective autos. The two of them perhaps were at the rear of the beet harvester machine either talking or attempting to make mud clear from the harvester. At this point, the machine operator left the rear of the beet harvester, entered the cab of his tractor. So as decedent stood near the machine, the other man engaged the power. He did so even though he knew or should have known Rodriguez had been cleaning mud from the machine. So the operator negligently failed to check for a human in the area. So the harvester ran for 30-60 seconds. At this point, the operator walked back to the rear of the equipment. He then noticed the pieces of decedent’s mangled, dead body inside the harvester. (Source).
Like other crops, trucks will often be hauling sugar beets to receiving stations. There they get weighed and offloaded on to sugar beet pilers. Another function of pliers is to remove more soil from the sugar beets, as they get stored in 18 feet tall, 1500 feet long “piles.” After beet samples get analyzed for their sugar content, tare, and overall purity, rehaul trucks are loaded up with the approved sugar beets.
Truckers, such as the above decedent, are involved in the delivery of the sugar beets for final factory processing. Then, it is time to begin the process all over again. (Source). Ehline has vast experience in all types of farm accidents, such as those above. Our firm helps workers in all kinds of farm accidents, from seeding to harvest. However, there are many more crops with their attendant risks to workers in the chain of production. So keep on reading.
California’s carrot growers account for approximately 85% of fresh market production. So much so, that the City of Holtville, styles itself as the world’s Carrot Capital. This city even has an annual carrot celebration called the Holtville Carrot Festival. And rightly so. After all, Daucus Carota grows year-round in many parts of California. Unlike beets and dry beans, carrots shipped out of the state year-round. But California’s larger shipments take place from December through August. (Source).
California’s main production areas for carrots are where many labor accidents occur as follows:
Consumer demand for uniform roots of deep orange and other colors, such as those sold in bunches at Whole Foods, or Vons Pavillions, has led to the development of highly efficient Imperator-type hybrids.
Varieties for sold for the cut and peel market include:
But there are also Cello varieties under the brand names:
As you can see, catchy native American names are all part of the marketing game.
First of all, there are many types of carrot harvesting machines. For example, there is a top lift and a share lift machine. Simon typically manufactures these. These two kinds of harvesters collect carrots from the ground differently. But all in all, a Carrot Harvester is used for harvesting carrots. Some carrot combines may be tractor-mounted, while others may be trailed behind a tractor. Still, other combines are self-propelled. Most commercial machines typically harvest between one and six rows of carrots at once. Like the other machines already discussed, workers help operate, maintain, and clear obstructions from the fields. And when they do, sometimes people get seriously hurt or killed.
Top lifters present risks for pulling workers into their rubber belts, as they grab the carrot’s green tops. Workers walking alongside are also at risk for foot and leg amputations and lacerations. The next potential injury takes place when the carrots, with intact tops, are pulled into the machine, and the tops are cut off on their path to a waste chute out the rear. Imagine a hand or arm being lobbed off, and spit out the tail into the field. These are real concerns for most laborers.
A share lifter uses a share to get the carrots out of the ground from underneath. The machine must be preceded by a topper with cutting blades that chop the green tops off the ripened carrot plants. After, the carrots are carried on conveyors designed to sift away as much soil as possible. But the cutting blades have been known to come loose or get jammed.
Also, workers get hit by flying objects and debris when these things take place. Also, even after harvest, there are other injury risks attendant with the cleaning and delivery process, as the carrots are collected storage tank on the machine or towed trailers pulled in tandem. Using a process called weeding, laborers have to clear away the freshly cut tops off of the machine, which presents a great chance of injury or death to the worker. (Source). In any event, like other agriculture, workers in every stage of the process remain at risk for injury and death.
The combine harvesters available today can combine all three steps into one smooth process. Consequently, harvesting grains is now more straightforward, efficient, and helps stimulate the mass production of various kinds of grains. The process of using a combine or harvester on a plantation leaves behind waste straw or the remaining dried leaves and stems on the field. The modern grain combine harvester, or combine, can harvest a variety of grain crops.
Like other harvesters, the name comes from its ability to perform multiple steps of harvesting operations as follows:
Among the grain crops harvested with a grain combine are:
Last but not least, grains a significant source of animal feed, like straw. The scattered straw left lying on the field, comprises the stems and any remaining leaves of the crop with limited nutrients left in it: the straw is then either chopped, spread on the ground, and plowed back in or baled for bedding and limited-feed for livestock. Often, these chopping machines can rip an arm off or operate like a bear trap, leading to a slow, painful death.
Combine harvesters are one of the most economically critical labor-saving inventions, significantly reducing the fraction of the population engaged in agriculture. The leftover waste straw contains limited nutrients. It is usually chopped and scattered across the farming field. Sometimes the remaining straws are baled and fed to livestock or utilized as bedding.
The grains that are most commonly machine-harvested are:
To recap, combine harvesters have undergone tremendous development with the introduction of safety and technological advancements in machinery. Also, as part of a team effort, ground crews and operators have learned to optimize the machine’s harvesting speed as well as systems to increase yield. And of course, in California farm country, more and more combine harvesters travel along highway shoulders and roadways.
Sadly, in addition to grain harvesting injuries to workers, people get into terrible combine involved traffic wrecks. Think about it, a slow-moving vehicle, even with a sign to alert other drivers, is no assurance of a safe ride. Besides, this is a fast-paced job and every second count. Because of this, farmers may enter roads with dirty windshields, drive at unsafe speeds, and fail to signal or use proper lighting. Recently in the news, we have seen a spike in railroad crossing accidents with combines.
Many terrible grain deaths and accidents center around the storage silos and bins. First of all, cleanliness is safeness. A clean grain storage bin area helps prevent many types of grain accidents. Next, the moisture content in the grains before storage is vital to worker safety. For example, imagine a farmer trying to loosen up water cemented grain with a pick-axe or rake, as he tries to loosen the hard grains and empty his bin?
Even a leaky in a bin can allow the grain to become wet and heavy. As the worker begins to loosen up the clumps, an avalanche of thousands of pounds can fall on the worker, crushing and killing him. Negligent employers should have made inspections, but now it’s too late. Someone is dead. Grain bin safety means fewer funerals. So do your part to avoid future grief.
California is the largest onion producer in the U.S. Also, California remains the only producing summer and spring harvests of the eye-watering vegetable. Noteworthy, in 2015, the Golden State grew 31% of the nation’s total onion yield. Counties at risk for the most onion harvesting injuries are Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Siskiyou, and San Joaquin. Also, a small enclave for onion related injuries exists in the high desert regions like L.A. County’s Antelope Valley and the Salinas Valley. Injuries commonly happen when pickers snap the rolls to keep material flowing into the feeds and separators.
As noted above, onion harvesting still requires a lot of machines and human interaction, regardless of the type of harvesting methods. Also, as with other combines, there are a lot of rapidly moving and sharp parts. As such, machine and different spinal cord related issues remain prevalent with onion workers.
Because onions remain at significant risk for sunburn most of the time, onions are harvested at night. Typically, laborers begin the hand-harvest process in the late afternoon and work till the midnight hours. Next, the machine harvester takes over to do their part of the job, perhaps till around the next afternoon. The machines will still move, even if jammed or plugged. But now, the stalks can bunch up all around the rolls.
And that blocks the stalks being harvested from being grabbed into the harvesting machine. And this is when farmers in a hurry to get work done with try and clear the jams or clogs without shutting down the picker machine and tractor. When moving, the farmer may grab a stalk to pull it out. But this may be just enough to make the machine quickly jerk the worker into the contraption before he can even let go of the plant material.
Now, the worker’s arm is sucked into snapping rollers traveling at approximately 12 feet per second. So that would give a worker pulling a branch two feet long less than half a second to let go before losing a limb. Many times, the worker is startled, and just cannot react in time to prevent this type of accident.
TIP: Always turn off the machine when you stop. Disable the blades and pullers before clearing jams!
Authorities identify man killed in onion harvesting machine accident in rural Oregon. (Source).
And be careful, this could be you: On October 19, 2019, 42-year-old Theodore Frahm was killed in an onion harvesting machine accident.
Frahm and others were working on farm equipment used to harvest onions and at one point the equipment was turned on and pulled Frahm into the equipment, according to the news release. (Source).
As you can see, combine harvesters being turned on when a person is near the machine is a significant cause of farming deaths. Employers, manufacturers, and others may have all played a part in causing these mishaps. So they are all potentially on the hook to pay you or the surviving family. That is why it is crucial to get legal advice before agreeing to anything or giving statements to investigators. And this is in addition to the other calamities discussed above related to harvesting machines.
Corn is America’s most number one cash crop, worth over $47.38 billion in 2008 alone. California ranks number two for corn production nationwide. And it grows and harvests 16% of all sweet corn in the U.S. However, the majority of California’s corn is converted to silage, or animal feed, for dairy cows. Corn harvesters, like other combines, harvest corn-based upon its unique configuration as a plant.
The process starts by stripping the stalks protruding around one foot off the ground. Next, it shoots the stalks into a header and out to the ground after the corn is stripped away. But the corn products continue their journey through the header on to the intake conveyor belt. Next, the conveyor belts send the kernels into a fan system, which divides up any still intact stalks from the corn ears.
The remaining stalks then are blown out of huge ducts into the field. And the corn ears are moved to another conveyor belt and dumped into a large moving bucket. A forager, silage, or chopper are all variations of this arm implement designed to turn forage plants into silage, or animal feed. Silage can be made from corn, hay, or grass chopped up into tiny pieces, and pressed into bails, or sillage bags.
But often, surplusses are placed in storage silos. And these bins are also called bunkers. Part of making sillage includes a fermentation process to convert it into livestock feed.
California corn for sillage production was valued at $182 million for 2010, up 48% from 2009. There are many laborers and workers involved in corn and sillage production. The National Agricultural Safety Database claims that most any farmer, friend, neighbor, or family member knows of somebody hurt or killed in corn picker machine accidents. Many corn picking machine deaths happen due to faulty hydraulic cylinders.
Also, many industrial picker machines are larger than those used for other crops like beets. These larger machines present blind spots to operators, placing field workers at risk of being crushed or run over. In an agricultural area, like Santa Paula, California, you may have seen these wider than normal combines pacing slowly along the highways with “Wide Load” signs and flashing emergency lights. This makes operating these machines particularly dangerous to other road users and motorists, especially motorcycle riders.
So it goes without saying that corn picker accidents have led to many injuries and deaths in the geographical areas they operate. Most of all, farms, feedlot, dairy, and silage contractors should train their employees in proper silage production safety. And they should have regular safety meetings. Getting people back safe to their families should be every bosses’ goal.
California produces 90% of the grapes grown in the United States and 7.7 % of all grapes worldwide. As a result, California is ranked number one in the production of wine, wine grapes, table grapes, and raisins in the nation. Workers in the grape industry have long had various work-related Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (“WRMDs”). WRMDs are hard to classify under traditional disease classifications.
But we know that symptoms include constant pain, loss of function, and can result in total physical disability. Like CMP or Patella Femoral Pain Syndrome, their initial diagnosis is difficult since they are based on subjective pain symptoms. But substantial evidence exists that WRMDs exist at a high rate among wine grape vineyard workers. Perhaps it’s from ergonomic risk factors associated with so many repetitive agricultural jobs. (Source). For example, this type of work involves body vibration, and routine overhead picking work. Because of this, the neck remains in a chronic and repetive flexion position during the performance of forceful, strenuous tasks.
For years, scientists and engineers have been looking for ways to cut out laborers and the associated costs of pensions, retirements, and medical care insurance. Also, harvesting machines, as discussed above, have often caused more harm to soft-skinned grapes than any good they did by yield increase. But as discussed, with genetic engineering and better machinery, WRMDs could soon be a thing of the past for grape harvesters.
Picking grapes bay had is a very labor-intensive and injury-prone affair. Recent advances have led to viable machine harvesting. Although it is more efficient in almost every way (can pick, crush, and chill in a half an hour or less), compare to handpicking, which takes a gaggle of expensive laborers and at least four hours to achieve the same process.
Mechanical grape harvesters use bow-like rods to knock the berries loose from their host plant’s cluster. The idea is to leave the rachis behind on the vine. Less efficient machines were used in the past. But the newest generation of grape harvesters are even better at de-stemming and sorting Material Other than Grapes, or “MOG.” So that cuts out the need for more laborers having to de-stem and sort at the winery itself.
As discussed on www.ehlinelaw.com, maintenance and on the spot, fixes of these machines are when people get hurt most. For example, just recently, a field worker was killed after he tried to clear an obstruction from a grape harvester. Leon Marcelo Lua, 49, was killed after he tried to unclog a grape harvester by reaching into a rotating shaft, according to the federal Labor Department and Napa County Sheriff’s Office. The shaft caught his sweatshirt, pulling him into the machine and killing him. A colleague turned the engine off and tried to render aid to him, but his body went limp after a few seconds, according to OSHA records.
In the newsworthy example above, an article of Lua’s loose clothing became stuck in the machine’s rotating shaft. So here is one example of poor worker safety and training. For whatever reason, decedent Lua was working on a moving machine designed to grab and pull things in! As the trend moves towards the mechanical harvesting of raisins, we expect to hear more stories of worker deaths. Sure, the government can fine or penalize the farming conglomerates, but how does that pay the survivors? In the above case:
…..violations issued included one for failing to guard a revolving shaft, and another for failing to turn off an engine before trying to unclog, clean or otherwise service a piece of equipment, according to OSHA’s website. (See above source)
So the question is, what do Lua’s family do now? These are the questions we attempt to answer further down. But there is hope, even after the grief of wrongful death.
Hand-harvesting, the U.S. apple crop, is labor-intensive. And now that apple cider, or ‘hard cider,’ is becoming popular, fermented apple juice has become a hot commodity in the U.S. liquor industry. Of special interest, we saw a 65% increase in production from 2008 to 2014. Because of this, cost-effective means of harvesting has led to experimentation with many machine configurations for apples.
Mechanical over-the-row ‘shake and catch’ harvesters are designed for smaller hand “Brown Snout” and “Malling” apple grafts mixes. And these are grown on a low trellis.
Enter The Vacuum Harvester!
For years, farmers have sought an effective and efficient vacuum harvester for apples and oranges.
But it appears that DBR Conveyor Concepts has developed a two-part system that includes:
Now, this crew served machine can reduce the laborers to four pickers. Their primary mission is to man the hydraulic platform picking the tree apples as high up as 13-14 feet. The methodology is to place each apple into a foam-lined vacuum receiver tube. This tube rapidly carries the apple away at an amazing speed of 12 feet per second. Once the apples approach the distributor wheel, foam-lined deceleration wheels slow the apple down, gingerly dropping it on to a distributor wheel into a bin, yet without bruising the fruit.
Munckhof’s Pluk-O-Trak harvester combines reconfigurable hydraulic platforms. That means it can be used for pruning, hand thinning, and even trellis maintenance. Also, these machines come equipped, pulling conveyor belts to carry their apples to storage containers. Loose clothing and jewelry can catch on these fast-moving belts as the fruit picker places the apple on to a designated finger sending it to a rotating bin filler.
The fingers on the belts help avoid bruising of the apple’s skin on the way to the container. The machine’s builder asserts that “fruit quality is increased by 50% to 60% compared to conventional harvesting methods.” Using a crew of six to eight people and no risk of falling from ladders, the risks of severe injury and death are greatly mitigated. Also, the workers expend less physical energy and strain, which helps reduce fatigue, heatstroke, and heat exhaustion.
Researchers are perfecting ideas like:
Like apples, over-the-row mechanical harvesting machines are also used for dwarf and young citrus trees. But these fruits are gathered by the use of the same machines that reap blueberries and olives. Versatile citrus harvesting machines that can be adapted for different crops are the wave of the future. But retrofitting will bring with it new injuries to workers. Some of these advances in the mechanization of citrus harvesting are published in IJABE. (Source).
Because of California’s amazing climate, it remains the only state capable of harvesting potatoes year-round. Potato harvesters are machines used for harvesting potatoes. Similar to a Beet harvester, they work by lifting the potatoes from the earth’s soil bed by use of a share. Soil and crop are transferred onto a series of webs where the loose soil is sieved out.
The potatoes are moved towards the back of the harvester on to a separation unit and then (on manned machines) to a picking table where people pick out the stones, clods, and haulms (stems or stalks) by hand. The potatoes then go on to a side elevator and into a trailer or a potato box. Like other machines, pesticide filled soil gets kicked up, and eye injuries are also common. Back injuries remain the mainstay of these field worker injuries.
A potato spinner is attached to a tractor via its the three-point linkage, or hitch that pulls a flat piece of metal that running horizontally to the ground. As it digs into the earth, potatoes are lifted by a large wheel with spokes called a reel. All the while, tilling motion pushes clay and potatoes off to the side without bruising them. After, laborers will usually bend over and place them into bags or baskets, and then away from the field for packing and distribution.
A haulm topper cuts potato haulms off before harvest. Similar to a flail mower, some potato farmers will mount a haulm topper in the front of their tractor and tow a potato harvester behind the tractor. But some toppers are rear-mounted. The machines have many blind spots, in addition to the other potential grabbing risks inherent in harvesting machines.
While performing maintenance on a potato harvester, a farmworker fell, and his leg was caught and then crushed. This slide show tells the story of this workplace accident. (Source).
As can be seen, farm injuries are far more common than one might think.
“If you take the [Metro] Blue Line to Long Beach, from the train, you’ll see a lot of homes with sugar cane growing in the backyard.” (Source LA Times). But with our water crisis, California will have a hard time sustaining more than a few hundred acres of cane at a season. Sugarcane has been successfully grown in California’s Imperial Valley for decades.
The soil is relatively rich with deep alluvial clay loam and, with the availability of irrigation water due to the Imperial Valley’s priority allotment of water from the Colorado River basin, is well-suited for farming. In fact, the area is recognized as one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Due to the dry climate, intense sunlight, and irrigation, Imperial Valley sugarcane can be planted and harvested year-round, unlike Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, where rain limits the harvesting season to six months. (Source).
A sugarcane harvester is a giant piece of farm equipment used to harvest agriculture and partially process sugarcane. The machine remains similar in function and design to the traditional combine harvester. So, essentially, it comes with a storage vessel on a truck with a mechanical extension. From there, the machine cuts the stalks at the base, strips the leaves off, and chops the sugar cane into various segments stored in an on-board container, or a separate tandem vehicle. Also, any waste product is shot out of the field where it is recycled as plant fertilizer.
The sweet spot in harvesting potatoes and onions, for example, lies in digging them up and ripping their roots from the earth, without injuring or tearing the skin from the vegetables themselves. The farmer’s choice of harvester itself plays a major role in deciding this. There is also the cost of fuel and maintenance as part of the balancing factor. Some harvesting combines that may harm the vegetables less, are so expensive that it could be a wash.
Some of the harvested items will simply be destroyed during harvesting. So the total operating costs will always play a role in the choice of machinery selection. Obviously, a regular gas motor will have higher running and maintenance costs, despite lower gasoline prices when compared to diesel fuel. As a result, the low maintenance Cummins Diesel is among the most popular combine engines for vehicle manufacturers.
And like the big rigs that haul farm products diesel engines, in general, are the preferred types of motors powering most combines in California.
IMPORTANT: In addition to the risks attendant with harvester machines themselves, workers face toxic exposure to diesel fumes while working in the fields.
The more popular combine manufacturers are as follows:
To recap, workers can be injured in many ways, both long and short term. In the agricultural industry in the US, harvesters play a vital role in the overall production. However, harvester accidents are a pervasive problem in every state. Harvester vehicles pose many dangers to not only the users but also to people in close vicinity of this heavy machinery. Also, harvester accidents are a frequent occurrence, contrary to what many may believe. In fact, such accidents are often the most disastrous with severe injuries, even fatalities. For this reason, individuals working in close proximity to harvesters must exercise the utmost care to avoid being sucked inside and mangled or killed.
Farm work, including harvester combine deployment, means being exposed to many large, dangerous moving machine parts. Most accidents take place because of a problem with one of these moving parts. Because of this, workers must be properly trained in safety. Staying safe and alive means attention to the smallest details. Some of the worst dangers involving harvester accidents are:
Some safety tips while using combines are as follows:
Don’t forget that California employers must create an IIPP or Injury & Illness Prevention Program. Basically, your employer should pre-plan accidents, so a system is in place to investigate illnesses and injuries. Your employer is also supposed to plan for near misses during the course of the day. Also, employers are required to investigate and document details of any farm accidents in writing. Typically, HR or someone most knowledgeable about the law handles these reports.
Autonomous systems and drones will be used more and more in harvesting and planting crops. These will all be equipped with cameras and be crew-served. Machine jams will still have to be cleared, and other issues come up that require human hands. As your attorney, we will rapidly send out demands to preserve this evidence, so we can prove whether a product defect or failure by the employer caused these injuries or deaths.
Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury attorney has proudly provided you with the most up to date, cutting edge information on your rights, duties, and obligations as an employee and an employer when there is a severe injury on a farm. Harvesting combines can kill you or help you. But there are other injuries and accidents besides those caused by combines during the entire chain of food production.
Only an attorney can help you maximize the amount of money you can get for you or your family in these complex and confusing cases. If you suffered a farming or harvesting machine accident, our personal injury lawyers stand ready to help you in your employment, or third party lawsuit claims. You may be entitled to compensation, so don’t sleep on your rights. We help suffering clients in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Imperial County, Sacramento, and Southern California.
We have been trustworthy advocates to thousands of clients over the past 15 years. Give us a call to learn more about your rights, duties, and obligations in a case like this before the statute of limitations expires. Get the compensation you deserve by calling (213) 596-9642.
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