“There are always considerable risks when dealing with machines designed to make processes more efficient, and worker safety in any agricultural workplace must be a priority,” says Wendy Bennett, executive director of AgSafe BC, the health and safety association that works with the province’s agricultural employers, including greenhouse operators.
In British Columbia there are 61 greenhouse operations that employ approximately 3,500 workers.1 Worker-machine interaction generally occurs at the culling station. Employers are responsible for ensuring that all workers are fully trained in the safe use and operation of specific equipment, wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and are properly supervised.
Bennett says they often advise and educate employers and workers about how to avoid serious worker injury when working with automated systems and machinery.
A conveyor system for sorting and packaging is a common example of automation found in greenhouse operations. When working with employers and site managers, AgSafe reviews safety procedures such as making sure that sprockets, gears and moving parts are properly guarded, and that the emergency stop button is highly visible and easily accessible.
Workers are also reminded of ensuring their own safety when working with automated equipment by having hair tied back, and not wearing any loose clothing with dangling strings, straps or ties that could get caught in a machine.
Fall is the time of year when many greenhouse growers in British Columbia conduct their cleanout – removing debris and soil, disinfecting equipment, and power washing surfaces.
During cleanout, work routines change, so a review of equipment operations and safety practices is important before the process begins.
If using a gas powered pressure washer, it is vital that appropriate ventilation and an exposure control plan are in place to ensure workers aren’t exposed to carbon monoxide. The exposure control plan should include checking the weather forecast for changes, such as an inversion, that may require increased ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide build-up.
Carbon monoxide limits the body’s ability to carry oxygen in the blood, potentially causing health problems and possibly death. The gas is especially dangerous because it has no colour, odour or taste.
Falls are also a risk for workers when using trolleys or picking carts. The cart can become unstable if moving too quickly or when there is an additional equipment load resulting in a loss of balance. Proper railing height and harness systems will help prevent falls.
Young and new workers are more at risk of injury due to inexperience and lack of hazard awareness. Provide proper equipment safety training and supervise their activity until they become competent.
Introducing automation to your greenhouse operation, especially where it involves worker interaction, requires a review and assessment of your workplace health and safety program. Before you begin to use any new piece of equipment, make sure that you have updated all pertinent safety information and protocols in your health and safety plan and that you have reviewed all changes with your team.
- B.C. Greenhouse Growers’ Association Quick Facts 2017
AgSafe (formerly FARSHA) is the non-profit health and safety association for agricultural producers in British Columbia. For over 25 years AgSafe has provided site-specific safety education, consultation and resources to agricultural employers and associated industries in B.C. AgSafe also offers a Certificate of Recognition (COR) program for large and small employers. Visit agsafebc.ca or call 1-877-533-1789.