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9-Year-Old Child Helping With Blueberry Harvest Dies After Being Run Over by Cargo Truck on Field Road

FACE 9815

SUMMARY

On July 28, 1998, a 9-year-old boy (the victim) died after he jumped or fell off the back of a cargo truck and was run over. The victim had been picking blueberries with his father and an 11-year-old boy the morning of the incident. After lunch the boys helped the victim's father pick up plastic containers filled with blueberries and load them onto a cargo truck. The boys were riding in the truck's cargo area as it slowly moved in reverse, when the victim either jumped or fell off and then slipped while trying to jump back onto the truck bumper. He fell face down on the field road, and the truck ran over him. The father felt the truck bump into something, and getting out of the truck to check, he found that he had run over the victim. The father called for help to workers in the field, and a worker used a cell phone to call emergency medical services (EMS). The EMS arrived within minutes of the call, provided emergency care, and transported the victim to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead. NIOSH investigators concluded that, to prevent similar occurrences, employers should:

  • comply with child labor laws which establish minimum ages for employment and restrict the type of work which youth, less than 16 years of age, are allowed to perform in agricultural settings
  • ensure that children, who are brought to the fields where work is being performed, are restricted to areas where there is no vehicular travel or machine use, and which is free of any recognized hazards
  • ensure that passengers are not allowed to ride on vehicles unless safe seating is provided
  • consider equipping vehicles used in agriculture with a back-up alarm and/or a signal person when trucks must be backed through areas where other workers are present
  • evaluate field roads to determine a safe route for vehicular and equipment travel
  • develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive safety program for all workers which includes, but is not limited to, training in hazard identification, avoidance, and abatement.

 

INTRODUCTION

On July 28, 1998, a 9-year-old boy (the victim) died after he jumped or fell off the back of a cargo truck and was run over. On July 31, 1998, officials from the United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division contacted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Division of Safety Research (DSR), and requested technical assistance in evaluating the circumstances surrounding the incident. On August 6, 1998, a DSR Safety and Health Specialist and a DSR Mathematical Statistician with expertise in agricultural safety issues, accompanied by a Wage and Hour Specialist from the Department of Labor, traveled to the incident site to conduct an investigation. Photographs of the incident site taken by the sheriff's department immediately following the incident were reviewed. The incident was discussed with the investigating officer, the deputy medical examiner, the property owner, and the growers who leased the land from the property owner. The sheriff's report and a medical examiner's report were obtained. DSR investigators were unable to locate the victim's father, the 11-year-old boy who had witnessed the incident, or the farm labor contractor (FLC) for an interview. Incident-specific information described in this report was derived from official reports and from interviews with officials from the sheriff's department and the medical examiner's office. Personnel from those agencies had spoken through an interpreter with the victim's father, the 11-year-old boy and the FLC (each spoke fluent Spanish but little English) to gain detailed information regarding the incident.

The growers had leased approximately 80 to 90 acres where the incident occurred and hired 60 seasonal workers for a 12-week period each year to harvest blueberries. These workers were shown videos on warehouse and pesticide safety and were given a set of basic safety rules by the growers. Because the berry crop was ripening too rapidly for the growers' seasonal workers to harvest, the growers had contracted with an FLC to locate and hire approximately 10 additional workers. The contract between the growers and the FLC was verbal.

The FLC had a license from the Department of Labor to hire seasonal workers. The FLC's pay records indicated that he had hired the victim's father (his brother-in-law) approximately 3 weeks prior to the incident. According to officials who investigated the incident, the victim was helping his father harvest and transport blueberries.

The growers stated they understood their responsibility was to provide sanitary facilities to the workers hired by the FLC but that supervision and safety of workers hired by the FLC were the FLC's responsibility. The growers had been in business for 16 years, and this was the first time they had contracted with an FLC. It was the first fatality to occur on the blueberry farm.

 

INVESTIGATION

The victim and his father arrived at the blueberry field at approximately 7:30 a.m. and picked blueberries with the 11-year-old son of the FLC. This was their first day working in this field, and the weather was hot and sunny. By early afternoon, pickers had placed plastic containers filled with blueberries along the field road. The father's job was to load blueberries onto the growers' cargo truck and drive them to the growers' packing shed located about 150 yards from the field. He asked his son and nephew to help load the containers onto the cargo truck.

The truck used in the incident was owned by the growers and is shown in Figure 1. It was a 1984 Ford single-axle truck equipped with a large, fully enclosed cargo compartment approximately 13 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8 feet high. The truck had side mirrors on both the driver's and the passenger's side. There was no back-up alarm/signal, nor is one required on vehicles used in agricultural settings. Between the cab and the cargo compartment was a 3½-foot-high by 2-foot-wide door with a window. The rear bumper extended out 10 inches from the back of the truck and measured 17 inches from bumper to ground. A 2-foot-long vertical grab bar, designed to assist individuals entering the cargo compartment at the back of the truck, was located on the end of the truck on the passenger side. At the time of the incident, the rear door of the cargo compartment was open. The rear door operates like a garage door and slides up inside the roof of the compartment when opened. It is closed by pulling a strap located on the door. According to the victim's father, the door was normally pulled shut when he drove with the children in the cargo compartment.

Reports indicate that the father had driven trucks similar to the one used in the incident for about 1 year, and that he was a licensed driver. According to the grower, this was the first time the father had driven this particular truck and the first time he had driven on this field. The cargo truck normally used for blueberry transport was like the one used the day of the incident. It was not in service that day.

The victim's father drove the truck forward along the flat single lane hard dirt road that extended around 3 sides of the 5-acre blueberry field and stopped periodically to work with the boys loading the plastic blueberry containers on the truck. Once he had completed picking up berries he put the truck in reverse and traveled the same route in reverse because there was no room to turn the truck around. According to the growers, at one time they could drive all the way around the field, but some time ago the road going around the fourth side was closed to all vehicular traffic. Blueberry bushes were located on one side of the dirt road and a ditch was within 2 feet of the other side so there was little room to maneuver.

According to official reports, the father thought that both boys were inside the cargo van, but he could not see them through the door opening and window between the cargo compartment and the cab because the stacked blueberry containers obscured his vision.

Reports indicate that the boys were riding in the back of the cargo compartment or on the rear bumper. The victim jumped or fell off. When he tried to jump back on the bumper, he may have tried to reach for the grab bar located on the rear passenger side of the truck, and while doing so slipped and fell face forward (prone) onto the road. The truck's left rear tire rolled over the victim's torso. Though other workers were in the surrounding fields picking blueberries, only the victim, the 11-year-old boy and the victim's father were in the immediate vicinity. When he saw the victim slip, the 11-year-old boy screamed for the driver to stop. The driver heard nothing, but reports indicate that he felt a bump. He stopped the truck, drove the vehicle forward, and ran over the victim a second time. He got out of the truck, and walking to the back to check what had happened, found the victim lying in the road. He immediately called to field workers nearby who used a cell phone to call 911 for assistance. He returned to assist his son and to await emergency medical services.

Sheriff's department personnel arrived at 2:49 p.m. (within 7 minutes of receiving the 911 call), assessed the victim and finding no vital signs present, began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). An ambulance arrived at 2:55 p.m., and personnel examined the victim, determining that he was asystolic (in cardiac standstill), unresponsive, and had fixed and dilated pupils. EMS personnel performed emergency care and transported the victim to a local hospital where he arrived at 3:10 p.m. Hospital emergency personnel continued resuscitation attempts until 3:29 p.m., when the patient was pronounced dead.

 

CAUSE OF DEATH

The medical examiner listed the cause of death as lacerated liver (severe).

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation #1: Employers should comply with child labor laws which establish minimum ages for employment and restrict the type of work which youth, less than 16 years of age, are allowed to perform in agricultural settings.

Discussion: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), also known as the Wage-Hour Law, enacted in 1938, includes child labor provisions that prohibit the employment of youth in jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health or well being. Unless a specific exemption applies, 14 is the minimum age for employment in agricultural activities that are not deemed hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. Youth as young as 10 or 11 years old may be employed under prescribed conditions to hand-harvest short-season crops, only if an employer's application for a waiver has been approved by the Secretary of Labor. Employers should take steps to ensure that hired employees are not utilizing children to inappropriately conduct work tasks.

Children may lack the judgment necessary to protect their own safety and health. In this incident the 9-year-old victim may not have been aware or fully capable of understanding the safety risks associated with jumping off and then attempting to get back on the back of a slowly moving vehicle. A copy of a Department of Labor Bulletin summarizing federal child labor provisions of the FLSA in agriculture is appended.

 

Recommendation #2: Employers should ensure that children, who are brought to the fields where work is being performed, are restricted to areas where there is no vehicular travel or machine use, and which is free of any recognized hazards.

Discussion: Children are frequently brought to the fields by their parents or by other adults caring for them. While federal child labor laws have legal authority over specific working conditions and ages at which children can work, they do not have legal authority to determine the conditions under which non-working children can be present in the worksite. Growers should establish a policy that restricts non-working children to specific areas of the farm. These areas would be areas which the grower has established as off limits for vehicular travel and machine use and is free of any recognized hazards.

 

Recommendation #3: Employers should ensure that passengers are not allowed to ride on vehicles unless safe seating is provided.

Discussion: Passengers in motor vehicles should ride inside of vehicles and be restrained with seat belts whenever vehicles are moved. The practice of riding on vehicles where safe seating has not been provided has led to injury and death for adults as well as for children and should be strictly prohibited. OSHA standards 29 CFR 1910.266 (f) (2) (viii) and 29 CFR 1926. 601 (8) , detail safe seating requirements for logging machines and construction vehicles respectively, and though not written for machines and vehicles used in agricultural settings, provide useful information regarding safe seating.

 

Recommendation #4: Employers should consider equipping motor vehicles used in agriculture with a back-up alarm and/or a signal person when trucks must be backed through areas where workers are present.

Discussion: When vehicles must be backed over field roads, alarms can provide a useful warning to alert workers in the area that a vehicle is present. Back-up alarms have been useful in warning workers of potentially dangerous vehicular movement and have prevented run-over incidents. Though required in selected manufacturing and construction worksites, back-up alarms are not currently required for vehicles used in agriculture.

Additionally, a trained signal person could have been used to direct the truck movement and improve the safety of co-workers. Alarms and signal persons can warn field workers to stay off the field roads whenever vehicles are present.

 

Recommendation #5: Employers should evaluate field roads to determine a safe travel route for vehicular and equipment travel.

Discussion: An evaluation of the field road layout (three-sided arrangement) may have identified that the absence of a turnaround for vehicles and equipment presented a hazard for workers (including the 9-year-old victim) when drivers are required to operate vehicles in reverse. Establishing a turnaround would eliminate the hazards unique to backing vehicles.

[Note: After the incident, the growers stated that they planned to eliminate the use of the cargo truck completely and use a forklift to pick up produce placed on skids along the field road. If forklifts are used, safety hazards unique to their use should be identified and controlled. The OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.178, Powered Industrial Trucks (which includes forklifts), though not written for agricultural settings, provides useful information regarding safe use of forklifts.]

 

Recommendation #6: Employers should develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive safety program for all workers which includes, but is not limited to, training in hazard identification, avoidance, and abatement.

Discussion: The evaluation of tasks to be performed at the worksite forms the basis for development, implementation, and enforcement of a safety program. They key elements of such a program should include at a minimum, training in hazard recognition, avoidance, and abatement. This safety program should include the safety and health of all workers on the worksite. In this incident, the victim was run over by a truck. There was no comprehensive safety program for the worksite. The truck driver had not received training in hazard recognition and therefore did not recognize the hazard created for other workers when he backed the truck over the narrow dirt road with unrestrained passengers and an open cargo door. Had these hazards been recognized and abated, the fatality may have been prevented.

Whenever there is any uncertainty regarding employer status, those involved should seek clarification from the Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division. Both the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Protection Act (MSPA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act provide valuable information regarding employer status and are referenced below. A summary of each document is appended.

Once employer status is clarified, the employer(s) should establish a comprehensive safety program which provides a plan for providing a safe workplace for all workers at the worksite.

 

REFERENCES

Child Labor Requirements in Agriculture Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, U.S. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division, WH 1295, July, 1990.

Employment Relationship Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, U.S. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division, WH 1297, May, 1980.

Office of the Federal Register: Federal Register, Vol. 61, No. 96, p 24857-24866, May 16, 1996. Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act; Final Rule.

Code of Federal Regulations 29 CFR 1910.178, (Powered Industrial Trucks) 1997 Edition. U.S. Government Printing Office, Office of the Federal Register, Washington D.C.

Code of Federal Regulation 29 CFR 1910.266, (Logging Operations) 1997 Edition. U.S. Government Printing Office, Office of the Federal Register, Washington D.C.

Code of Federal Regulation 29 CFR 1926.601, (Motor Vehicles) 1997 Edition. U.S. Government Printing Office, Office of the Federal Register, Washington D.C.

 

Cargo truck.

Figure 1. Cargo Truck Used in Incident

At the time of the incident, the victim jumped or fell off the rear of the cargo truck (pictured above), which was moving in reverse.

 

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