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Are California's wineries safe for workers?

California readers may have many reasons to be proud of the state’s wine industry. However, safety might not be among those reasons, according to a recent article.

Specifically, there may be an issue with the industry’s approach to barrel rows in wine cellars -- some of which may extend up to 18 feet in the air. Earthquakes are a predictable hazard in California, yet stacking protocols may not adequately account for this risk.

The industry has witnessed previous worker injuries. In one example, a forklift operator was buried under a stack of 600-pound barrels for over an hour during an earthquake. According to one commentator, more workers might have been injured, save for the fact that the cellar had not been heavily occupied at the time of the quake. The extent of post-earthquake property damage may be another indicator of the need for improved safety protocols: At least 120 wineries have claimed earthquake damages totaling a collective $48 million. Notably, a substantial portion of those damages may be attributable to barrel collapse. 

However, without adequate guidance from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration or California’s state equivalent, Cal/OSHA, wineries may be slow to change. One commentator suggests that the small business aspect of wineries makes it cost-prohibitive to implement newer, safer approaches.

Yet an attorney that focuses on workers’ compensation knows that any investment in worker safety is ultimately a win-win proposition for employers and workers alike. OSHA safety violations can translate into stiff financial penalties, and worker injuries -- and the accompanying media coverage and reputational damage-- may also hurt business revenues.

Source: California, “Avoiding a Tragic Wine Crush: Seismic Expert Urges Safer Barrel-Stacking Method,” Coby McDonald, Sept. 10, 2014

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