Depending on what fruit you grow, there’s no true off-season in a citrus grove in Southern California. You’re hard at work, day in and day out. You may not feel like you have much time to spare to brush up on your safety game, but no matter what role you have in a fruit-growing operation, accidents and incidents happen. Equipment fails, people make mistakes, Mother Nature brings dangerous weather, and one misstep can give you an off-season task you don’t want: recovering from an injury.
Although National Safety Month is technically June, there’s no reason not to take a moment any month of the year to remember some safety basics to protect yourself and your workers around the farm. First, let’s look at some common hazards you and your workers may face in orchards.
California Orchard Hazards
Slips, trips, and falls are among the top causes of workplace injuries in any industry, field, and office. So you’re probably not surprised to learn that in orchards, ladder falls contribute to more than 200 injuries every year, according to the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center. When talking specifically about tree fruit injury claims, ladder falls comprise 36% of all claims. You can be seriously injured falling from the upper part of a ladder. On average, people are out of work for 150 days after an accident in an orchard.
One of the highest-risk activities in the orchard is another task people do all the time: operating standard orchard machineries like harvesters and forklifts. Collisions with other vehicles, overturns, engine entanglements, and runovers can all cause severe or fatal injuries. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) cites transportation incidents like tractor overturns as agriculture’s leading cause of death. In 2019, 410 farmers and farm workers died from work-related injuries.
- Heat Illness
Anyone who works in an orchard in Southern California should be aware of the dangers of overheating. Heat sickness and its far more dangerous relative, heat stroke, are preventable with practical shade, hydration measures, and worker awareness. However, it can be difficult to know when you’re overheated, as heat sickness can cause confusion. Like any potential hazard around the orchard, fellow workers can keep an eye out for signs of heat sickness in each other. While the State of California requires employers to train employees about heat illness prevention, it’s a good idea to take a moment to refresh your awareness and knowledge before the hottest months of the year.
- Wildlife Smoke
Wildfires are increasing in intensity and duration, causing air quality problems across huge areas. Tiny particulates in the smoke cause short-term health problems like difficulty breathing, a rapid heart rate, and coughing. Long-term, dangerous air quality can cause heart disease and worsening lung function. Know the different levels of the air quality index, and ensure everyone in your orchard knows what to do when wildfire smoke causes unhealthy air quality index levels. NIOSH-approved respirators can help workers stay safe around the orchard in dangerous air quality conditions.
Ways to stay safe
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Sadly, there is no cure for certain injuries that can occur around the orchard. However, awareness and preventative measures go a long way in keeping everyone safe in the field. Follow these tips to make sure your orchard operations are safe.
- Make sure your equipment is in good working order. Always inspect tools, machinery, and equipment before use, and ensure everyone in the orchard has the right training for any tool or machinery they’ll use on the job.
- Implement best practices across all aspects of your operations, including safety. For instance, this could mean keeping tractors off steep slopes to prevent overturns or ensuring everyone can secure a hitch properly. And, of course, all workers should have access to the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to do their job.
- Have a plan if someone gets hurt. Have current first aid supplies, know your closest medical treatment centers, and have escape routes and rallying points laid out in case you need to evacuate an area for any reason.
- Involve everybody. The safest orchards have buy-in at every level. Supervisors and managers understand that keeping everyone safe is part of their job. Workers are involved in identifying hazards before an injury occurs and can make suggestions for improvements. And, of course, everyone in your orchard needs to know how to properly and safely operate and maintain equipment and access the right PPE.
Make Your Orchard Operations Safer with Fruit Growers Supply
Since 1907, Fruit Growers Supply Company has specialized in everything fruit growers need for a productive, healthy, and safe harvest. In addition to crop-specific irrigation systems and fruit-specific corrugated boxes, we also offer a wide range of equipment for fruit-growing operations.