Farm work is consistently ranked as one of the three most dangerous occupations in the United States, generally falling just behind construction and mining according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Sadly, today that fact was illustrated once again in the death of a lettuce harvester and the injury of one other person in Salinas, California. KSBW News reports that the two men were run over by a lettuce truck backing up in the field. One of the men, Alfredo Gonzalez Raya, died on the scene. The other individual was taken to a nearby hospital to be treated for his injuries.
A National Safety Council study has indicated that hired farm laborers are more likely to suffer injuries than family members working on family farms. According to OSHA, tractor accidents account for 44% of all agricultural-related injuries. While this incident occurred in a lettuce field, it should be noted most tractor accidents reported seem to happen on fruit farms.
Migrant and seasonal farmworkers toil in dangerous conditions for long hours every day. They are exposed to hazardous equipment, fall hazards (from ladders), heat stress, continuous pesticide exposure, bee stings, and snake bites. Damage to their bodies including cuts, repetitive motion injuries from using hand tools, and musculoskeletal damage from stooping, bending, squatting, crawling for hours every day are typical.
The majority of these injuries and nearly all of the fatalities are completely preventable. Unfortunately, the health and safety needs of those who harvest our food are largely ignored. At what point do we decide changes in health and safety practices are needed? How do we decide how many injuries or deaths are too many before change is implemented? I challenge employers, regulators, consumers and advocates to begin to take farmworker safety seriously and work to make the workplace safer for those who put their lives on the line for our grocery baskets.