New rules for workplace injuries, illnesses
California’s wine industry has stood strong against a number of hardships in recent years. In 2014, the harvest felt the effects of the state’s drastic drought and the historic Napa earthquake. Then came the 2017 wildfire, which damaged about 30 wineries Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. While these events impacted the industry as a whole, the heart of California’s wine country overcame the ordeals.
The area’s vineyards can credit their success to not only having the right piece of land and blooming vines, but also to the strenuous work performed by their employees. As many know, the winemaking industry is a very hands-on workplace. Some employees manually prune the vines by hand, can cause pain and injury. Therefore, much like agricultural laborers, viticulture workers are also prone to farm-related injuries and medical conditions. Vineyard employers need to be aware of the various health risks and what steps are required to best deal with these incidents.
First, let’s take a look at some common injuries workers experience in viticulture:
Musculoskeletal disorders: Carpal tunnel syndrome and nocturnal hand paresthesia can come from the result of an injury due to pruning activity. In addition to enduring discomfort in their hands, workers can also develop plantar fasciitis, a medical condition that results in heel pain due to swollen plantar fascia, the ligament that connects our toes and heel bones. Straining of the back and neck is also common.
These types of injuries are normally caused by repetitive movements, bad posture and forceful hand activities – such as pruning vines. Workers generally have to make more than 30 cuts per minute, many hours a day, for many weeks during the growing season.
Mesothelioma: Although not as common and not considered an injury, there are reported cases of mesothelioma, cancer in the mesothelial tissue, among winemakers and workers who are exposed to asbestos.
Asthma: Spider mites commonly infest fruit trees, greenhouse plants and grapevines. In addition to sucking on the leaves and buds of plants in vineyards, they are also known to cause allergic diseases in workers - including asthma.
Dermatoses: This is a skin condition that affects the skin, nails or hair. It can be developed due to exposure of pesticides, which are used in vineyards to keep vine pests in check.
So what should employers do when one of their employees experiences a workplace-related injury?
Seek medical attention: This is a must. Even if the injury doesn’t require emergency attention, employees should be encouraged to get medical care as soon as possible. Failure to provide an employee with medical attention not only negatively impacts the employee, but it could also prove to be legally damning in the future.
Report: After the employee has been given appropriate medical attention and care, employers need to report the incident. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), announced that starting this month, all states, including California, will be required to submit their injury and illness data electronically. More information can be found at www.osha.gov/injuryreporting/index.
Cooperate with workers’ compensation: If a claim is pursued by the injured employee, employers must cooperate with the workers’ compensation carrier and its attorneys.
Prevent future issues: All potential employees, especially those working in the vineyards, should be screened to determine their health and physical abilities.
Employers should provide safety and wellness education to their employees so that workers understand how to properly conduct themselves at work.
Employees need adequate resources in order to be safe on the job. Vineyard employees should be given gloves, face protection, and other equipment that keeps them safe.
Regularly inspect and monitor. Problem areas in the workplace need to be regularly inspected and monitored. If there is an issue, it is an employer’s responsibility to fix the matter immediately.
Debra Costa (DebraC@HeffINS.com, 707-789-3051) is senior vice president and vintner practice leader of Heffernan Insurance Brokers in Petaluma. Vine Notes (nbbj.news/vinenotes) is a monthly column by Heffernan, Rabobank and Farella Braun + Martel.