There's a passage in The Good Book that reads, "'Let there be light,' and there was light."
There's a passage in the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health's new Outdoor Agricultural Operations During Hours of Darkness Rule that reads, effectively, "Let there be artificial light, after sunset."
Regulations in the works since 2013 to stipulate specific lighting requirements for nighttime agricultural work went into effect July 1 across California.
The rules impact almond growers and their crews who start work before the sun comes up and frequently are still at it as the sun sets. The regulations govern how much lighting is required and the kinds of reflective clothing needed to protect nighttime workers in agricultural environments.
"This thing has been in the hopper for several years, so it shouldn't come as a surprise," says Amy Wolfe of the nationwide, non-profit AgSafe education group in Modesto and a recent speaker at The Almond Conference in Sacramento, where she outlined three aspects that growers needed to pay attention to — lighting, personal protective equipment (PPE), and training.
Wolfe acknowledged that while she couldn't recall specific instances of nighttime workers being injured on the job in the almond industry, after-dark injuries in other sectors of the ag world inspired the new rules.
Because implementation of the rule came just before harvest, growers needed to formulate a plan to comply, one that requires training that prioritizes employee safety.
Before each shift, employees need to know the location of drinking water, meal breaks, and hand-washing stations as well as any specific location hazards such as canals and irrigation ditches.
Lighting requirements come in a matrix detailing how much illumination is needed and where. Harvesting jobs might require 10 candle feet of light while maintenance duties might need 20 candle feet. The foot-candle specifications are listed in the regulation along with the notation that the employer "shall provide and maintain hands-free portable personal lighting or area lighting or both to employees during the hours of darkness."
Stationary lights or headlamps
Lighting can be provided through a combination of stationary lights brought into an orchard, personal lighting like hard hat headlamps, or headlights on vehicles.
The rule also requires growers to provide workers with needed personal protective equipment to work at night such as hardhats with lamps or high visibility reflective shirts, vests, and jackets.
AgSafe's Angelina Ceja agreed that the new standard shouldn't have been a surprise as it has been in the works since 2013.
"This version (six pages) was pretty succinct this time around as they drilled down on specifics," she said.
"The new regulation went into effect on July 1st and employers are figuring out how — despite the pandemic — they can quickly comply. There's some settling in going on in all facets of the agricultural community, figuring out how to get workers trained and certified to protect them. That's a big piece of the effort now, navigating the best ways to be able to train, so it doesn't become overly burdensome for the grower during harvest seasons. We've seen an uptick in our requests for digital training."
Lighting requirements vary by task and the new rules include a matrix detailing how much lighting is specified through a combination of stationary lights brought into an orchard, utilization of headlights from trucks, tractors, sweepers and the like, or personal lighting such as hard hat headlamps.
Cal/OSHA can make unannounced workplace inspections to see if new regulations are in place and being complied with. Fines for violations start at a few hundred dollars — per worker — per shift, so noncompliance could be costly.
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