Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Was Weed Pulling a Hazard?

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Was Weed Pulling a Hazard?

Article excerpt


An OSHA compliance officer conducted an inspection of the John Gill Ranch in King City, Calif. Following the inspection, the ranch was issued a citation alleging a violation of Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, commonly known as the general duty clause, for failure to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards that would be likely to cause serious physical harm to employees.

A total of $500 in penalties was proposed. The company contested the citation, and the case came before Administrative Law Judge Benjamin Loye.

At the hearing, the evidence established that the ranch employed farm workers to pull weeds from its spinach fields. The workers pulled the weeds by hand from a bent or stooped position.

An orthopedic surgeon testified that working from a bent position places 5 to 6 times the pressure on the lumbar discs in the back as does working from a squatting or upright position. He stated that, over time, the repeated stress could lead to damage to the spinal vertebrae, resulting in a loss of flexibility and an increased tendency of the vertebrae to crack. The surgeon also testified that repeated stress could cause the ligament surrounding the disc to hemorrhage, possibly leading to development of bone spurs.

An agricultural research consultant testified that the use of short-handled tools, which must be used in the bent or stooped position, had been banned in weeding and thinning operations for over 10 years. He acknowledged that they were allowed for harvesting because of the lack of effective alternative methods.

The consultant stated that in order to limit weed growth, farmers could use crop rotation, preplant irrigation, mechanical removal, and other methods, but, regardless of the cultivational methods used, weeds can never be totally eliminated.

The case record brought out that the ranch practiced crop rotation, irrigation prior to planting, and mechanical cultivation, and applied an appropriate herbicide. Furthermore, workers at the ranch found concentrated spots of weeds in the spinach field.

United States Department of Agriculture grade specifications adopted by spinach packagers, including the one for whom the ranch grew spinach, have a zero weed tolerance policy. …

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