By Vicky Boyd

Proposed changes to state rules for nighttime agricultural worker safety that include high-visibility clothing, nightly safety meetings and specific illumination levels are nearing adoption.

Some of the requirements, such as the minimum square inches of reflective material on clothing, are reasonable, said Brad Goehring, a Clements area winegrape grower and San Joaquin Farm Bureau board member. But others, such as mandated lighting illumination levels and how those are measured, could cost growers significantly with little improvement to worker safety.

“I poured over all of the board’s accident reports, and only two happened at night and none of them were related to lighting issues,” said Goehring, who has served on a California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board Advisory Committee since 2014.

As originally proposed, “Outdoor Agricultural Operations During Hours of Darkness” would have been even more onerous to growers. But the standards board subsequently incorporated many of the suggested changes submitted by the California Farm Bureau, Farm Employers Labor Service and California Association of Winegrape Growers.

“We were very heartened that they took our comments to heart, but they didn’t go as far as we suggested,” said Carl Borden, CFBF senior counsel. “This new version makes clear the employer can provide personal portable hands-free lighting, area lighting or a combination of the two.”

Earlier versions of the proposed rule required area lighting that provided a 10 foot-candle area of illumination. Even if the employer provided personal hands-free lighting, such as headlamps, area lighting still had to be used.

The latest version requires 5 foot-candles of illumination for most agricultural activities except for those using sharp instruments that can cause lacerations or punctures. For those tasks, such as hand harvesting grapes using knives, the requirement is 10 foot-candles. Compare that to indoor residential lighting, which typically ranges from 5 to 40 foot-candles.

The changes also bring safety rules for night agricultural activity in line with those for nighttime construction, Borden said.

More nighttime work

Because of state heat and illness regulations, Lodi winegrape grower Bruce Fry said, an increasing number of employers are having workers perform tasks – and not just harvest – at night to avoid hot temperatures.

Depending on the activity, doing it at night also is part of being a good neighbor with urban residents. In addition, changes to overtime and work days may mean some employers are running a second shift at night to get work done.

More than five years ago, Fry began having workers wear reflective vests or apparel at night so they were more visible. If they ask for flashlights or headlamps, he also provides them. In addition, tractors, grape harvesters and other equipment in the vineyards have headlights for illumination.

“As an employer, I want my workers to have a safe workplace,” said Fry, a SJFB board member. “It doesn’t do me or them any good if they get hurt.”

But he said the proposed nighttime worker safety regulations are “over the top” and create a whole new set of issues with little benefit. In San Joaquin County, for example, many vineyards and fields abut residential areas.

“When you’re next to the city limit lines, you’ll have all of this light pollution that will bother the neighbors,” Fry said.

Growers who use diesel generators to power lighting also could fall under Air Resources Board emissions regulations.

What’s not clear, he said, is whether other agricultural operations, such as dairies that operate around the clock, will be subject to these new requirements.

“Do they have to light up more for the employees and the cows?” Fry said. “This is going to affect all of the crops, but I think it will affect different crops in different ways.”

Time schedule

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration Division of Occupational Safety and Health has been discussing updating nighttime ag lighting requirements since 2014. The proposed changes were introduced last year, with an initial 45-day comment period in spring 2019; an April 18, 2019, public hearing; a 15-day comment period in October 2019 and another 15-day comment period in December.

The standards board’s deadline to consider the proposed regulations for adoption is Feb. 20, said Frank Polizzi, Department of Industrial Relations information officer. The Office of Administrative Law has 30 working days to review adopted regulations prior to final approval, after which they become effective at the beginning of the next quarter.

Based on that, if the board adopts the outdoor ag night lighting regulations at its Feb. 20 meeting, he said it is reasonable to assume they would become effective no later than July 1.

Lighting levels must meet certain specifications in various areas of the worksite, depending on the activity performed. General outdoor agricultural operations, with some exceptions, must have 5 foot-candles of illumination. Task lighting for agricultural operations that involve the use of tools that can potentially cause cuts, lacerations or punctures will need 10 foot-candles of illumination. The lighting can come from portable hands-free lighting, area lighting or a combination of both.

Employers may provide hands-free portable personal lighting to help meet specified illumination levels.

Supervisors must conduct safety meetings at the beginning of every shift.

High-visibility clothing (ANSI Class 2) must be worn for nighttime work. Workers who are involved in jobs where there is heavier traffic must wear a Class 2 vest, which has a minimum of 201 square inches of reflective tape that is 2 inches in diameter.

Dimensions of the reflective tape can be 8.373 linear feet of 2-inch tape or 12.2 linear feet of 1 1/3-inch tape. Reflective stripes will be over the shoulders and round the middle in either one or two 360-degree horizontal stripes

Trucks, in addition to other vehicles, must have functioning headlights.

Farm-equipment headlights must be used from sunset to sunrise. Previous rules called for using headlights from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise.