The Fields Claim First Life in 2012

“Every day in America, 12 people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, 3.3 million people suffer a workplace injury from which they may never recover. These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy.” Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, DOL blog 2011

The New Year has barely started and the first farming fatality of 2012 has already occurred. Anthony Siquieros, 31, died on January 2nd in a baling operation accident involving a power take-off shaft in Rapid City, South Dakota, leaving behind a wife and four children. His funeral was held last Saturday.

The Meade County Sheriff’s Department stated that workers were converting round hay bales into square bales when Siquieros’ clothing got caught in a power takeoff shaft. It was his first day on the job.

OSHA has no jurisdiction to investigate this tragic accident. By law, small agricultural operations, defined as a farm with less than 10 employees, are exempt from investigation after an accident or death. OSHA is required to address imminent danger situations, which are hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm. It cannot, however, vigilantly inspect all 7 million work places it covers in the United States each year. Priorities have to be set, and with those choices, unfortunately come real consequences.

The fact is that more than 12 workers are killed on the job every day according to OSHA statistics from 2010, which is the most recent data available. Fatalities in farm work reached 596 in 2010, which constitutes the highest fatality rate of any industry at 26.8 per 100,000 workers. 

The factors resulting in Siquieros’ death are still unknown. Perhaps, as it was the first day on his new job, he hadn’t been properly trained on the equipment he was using. Perhaps the safety shield of the equipment had been removed, which is a common, but very dangerous practice to speed work along. Lack of appropriate training that is culturally and linguistically sensitive, as well as failure to provide and enforce the use of safety equipment, are detrimental to occupational health and safety of workers. Accidents and deaths are also sometimes the result of insufficient supervision of inexperienced employees or employees who have taken on jobs for which they are not properly trained.

To diminish farming fatalities and injuries in 2012, there must be widespread trainings in a variety of health and safety topics that can truly reach the farmworker audience. Culturally and linguistically appropriate, interactive trainings and low-literacy, multilingual materials that are distributed before farmworkers start working are a crucial part of saving lives. AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs has already been doing that with its innovative pesticide safety trainings and heat stress prevention trainings all around the country. We hope to expand our repertoire of topics offered in the near future, thanks to a new Capacity Building Grant from the OSHA Susan Harwood funds.

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