Tuesday, September 28, 2004

California Bans (Most) Hand Weeding

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has approved the temporary ban on most hand-weeding, making California the first state to ban the practice that can cause crippling back injuries. Organic farms are exempted as are growers who can show that alternatives are not available.
Jose Gazcon, 48, has worked the fields from Sacramento to Modesto for 10 seasons, hand weeding carrots, broccoli and sugar beets. He said farm workers should be helped by the ban on hand weeding, which he called the most grueling job on the farm.

"When you're bending, it's nothing but pain," Gazcon said. "After three or four hours, you can't stand up. You're bent over like a question mark by the end of the day."
The regulation also provides hand weeding workers a 15-minute break for every four hours in the field. Previous rules allowed 10-minute breaks for all workers.

Farmworkers had been fighting for the ban since 1975 when use of the short-handled hoe was banned. But the practice of hand weeding remained widespread. The current ban is temporary, but a full ban will take effect within a year.
"This provides the grower with some flexibility as well as protecting the worker," said Debbie Jacobsen, president of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. "It is one of those cumulative-effect regulations that adds to the cost of doing business in California."

Mark Schacht, deputy director of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in Sacramento, said the compromise action means "neither side got everything they wanted." Schacht had petitioned the standards board in 2002 seeking a ban on weeding because of injuries.
Meanwhile, no similar ban is being contemplated next door in Oregon.

Although the regulation was a product of negotiation between the state, industry and farmworker representatives, not every one was happy:
"The same kind of crops we have here are grown in other nations, other states. The crops aren't unique to California," said Mike Webb of the Western Growers Association, which represents farms. Yet, he said, "we're going to be the only place on the face of the Earth that has a regulation or law that outlaws hand-weeding."
More here and here.