Starting Thursday, farms in California will have to find a new way to remove weeds as the state enacts an emergency ban on hand-weeding in an effort to save agricultural workers’ backs.
The ban on hand-weeding, a task deemed by farm workers as the “most grueling job on the farm” in an article in the Sacramento Bee, will be begin on September 30 and run for 120 days while California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health accepts comments on a final regulation that does the same. Cal-OSHA is not anticipating any changes to the regulation to arise during the comment period.
According to the Sacramento Bee, however, the ban is getting mixed reviews. A spokesperson for the United Farm Workers of America noted that this was just a “modest step” towards rules that should have been enacted long ago. An attorney with the Western Growers Association said that this legislation was better than some which had been proposed previously.
Agriculture, as an industry, has often been associated with risk factors for injuries which could greatly benefit from ergonomics. A 2001 NIOSH publication on the topic estimates that one-quarter of all agriculture injuries affect the worker’s back; estimates from California’s Agricultural Ergonomics Research Center (AERC) show that number is closer to 40 percent. The injuries can often be attributed to the manner in which farm workers tackle their jobs: farm workers tend to work in stooped and awkward positions, kneel often, work with their arms above shoulder level, carry heavy weights, and move their hands and wrists repetitively, among other concerns.
But John Miles, co-director of AERC told the Sacramento Bee that hand weeding may not be the only concern of agricultural workers.
“There isn’t anybody who truly understands what the impact of stooped labor is on the individual worker. There are many worse jobs than hand weeding–mining, construction, even picking melons. They’re all more difficult and probably more hazardous,” Miles said.
The new regulation doesn’t completely ban the manual removal of weeds: more ergonomic, long-handled tools are still permitted to be used for weeding, so workers may pull weeds without bending over. And, in situations where hand weed-pulling can’t be banned, such as on organic farms which are exempt from the regulation, workers with the task of pulling weeds will now be required to take a 15 minute break every four hours.
Sources: MSNBC; Sacramento Bee; Ergonomics Today