Farm Laborer Died When Struck by a Tomato Harvester — California
California Case Report: 21CA003
Release Date: November, 2022
On August 19, 2021, a 21-year-old Hispanic male farm laborer was working on the platform of a tomato harvesting machine as a “sorter.” This job required that he remove damaged tomatoes and debris from a moving conveyer prior to the tomatoes being transferred to a trailer alongside of the harvester. Periodically during the shift, the operator of the harvester would stop, and the sorters would climb underneath the machine to clear debris from the conveyors.
Near the end of the night shift, the harvester operator instructed the crew to stop working and return to the maintenance facility to clean the machine. Upon arriving at the maintenance facility, they noticed that the victim was missing. Driving back to the field where the victim was last seen, the operator found his body, apparently crushed by the tomato harvester. Emergency services were called to the scene but were unable to revive him and he died from his injuries.
CA/FACE investigators concluded that, to help prevent similar occurrences, employers using harvesting equipment should:
- Provide all employees working at night with appropriate reflective clothing.
- Supervisory personnel should inspect equipment and conduct a safety meeting at the beginning of the shift.
- Develop a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that includes a system of communication between operator and crew during the shift as well as a method for accounting of personnel prior to operation of agricultural equipment.
- Provide training and instruction related to harvester equipment safety.
- Consider conducting industrial hygiene sampling for dust and noise.
- Offer high-intensity LED lighting as an option on all tomato harvesters.
- Improve visibility for the harvester operator.