Personal Injury

California grower faces steep fines after worker loses leg on the job

OSHA logo California grower faces steep fines after worker loses leg on the jobA California grower plans to contest $39,000 in fines proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for safety violations investigators allege caused a harvester to lose her leg on the job.

According to the Modesto Bee, Turlock, Cal.-based Dan Avila & Sons said it will fight the proposed fines before a regional OSHA board early next year despite having a checkered safety history that includes $75,000 for other safety violations and disputes with county officials over some of the land he uses to grow watermelons and sweet potatoes.

On Oct. 17, 2012, 32-year-old Anaberta Nunez was working on one of Avila’s sweet potato harvesters when her left foot became trapped between a utility pole and a rotating bin as the harvester turned near the edge of a field, crushing the bones in Ms. Nunez’s ankle and causing her leg to be amputated at the shin.

An OSHA investigation of the incident found that the harvester contained no device to signal the driver to stop in an emergency situation. Last year, Ms. Nunez told the Modesto Bee that the harvester driver sat in an enclosed cab and that other workers had to throw handfuls of dirt at the window in a frantic effort to get him to stop the vehicle.

The agency also found that Avila did not have the required safety guards on rotating parts of the harvester and had failed to train the driver to operate the equipment properly and safely. Avila was also cited for failing to keep work areas free of obstructions and other safety hazards.

But those violations weren’t the first time Avila ran afoul of OSHA regulators. In Feb. 2012 a woman was injured on a harvester that lacked a guard on its chain driver, causing her to lose part of finger. That incident triggered an OSHA investigation that found Avila had failed to report the accident to OSHA and didn’t put the proper guards on its equipment. Those violations resulted in fines of $17,580.

Since 2008, Avila has been cited for 37 other violations, which have resulted in nearly $45,000 in additional fines. An OSHA official told the Modesto Bee that Avila had resolved some of the citations by agreeing to pay a reduced amount.


Modesto Bee