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Oct. 25, 2001

Safety effort dramatically reduces eye, ladder injuries in Washington's orchards

TUMWATER - Eye injuries and injuries caused by falls from ladders have decreased dramatically in the 21 months since the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) launched an intense accident-prevention program in Central and Eastern Washington orchards.

In 2000, the first year of the Eyes and Falls Initiative, ladder injuries dropped 20 percent and eye injuries were down 24 percent from the baseline established through much of the 1990s. For 2000, claim costs for ladder injuries dropped 54 percent. For eye injuries, costs were down 42 percent.

That trend appears to be continuing this year. Though 2001's statistics are incomplete, and are affected somewhat by a drop in the number of hours worked, the decline in injuries and claim costs is dramatic. Through the first nine months of this year, eye and ladder injuries both were down 34 percent. Claim costs for ladder injuries are down 69 percent from the baseline years. The cost of eye injury claims is down 58 percent through September.

The idea behind the Eyes and Falls Initiative began in 1998, when L&I Director Gary Moore looked at farmworker injury statistics and concluded Washington's orchards weren't getting any safer. With virtually all of the orchards located in Central and Eastern Washington, L&I's Region 5, based in Yakima, was assigned the task of coming up with a program to reverse the trend.

After meeting with growers and their trade groups, and with farmworkers and their representatives, Region 5 Administrator Reuel "Monty" Paradis launched his program in three Central Washington counties in January 2000. Growers who signed on were required to provide eye protection and ensure that farmworkers wore it.

With assistance from L&I, growers and laborers also were trained in ladder safety. In return for their cooperation, growers were given a one-year exemption from additional safety compliance inspections.

So popular was the Eyes and Falls Initiative that the program quickly spread to all of the state's growing regions. Earlier this year, after some initial, preliminary results were released, the trade publication Good Fruit Grower magazine did an article quoting several top industry officials praising L&I's handling of the program and its results.

"They worked to involve everyone, from agricultural organizations to labor advocates, labor contractors and growers before initiating the campaign," said Phil Hull, safety program administrator for the Washington Growers League in Yakima.

"No one likes to get cited for safety violations, but no one likes their workers to be injured," he said. "Not all growers like to require eye protection, and not all employees like to wear protective glasses. But the data is hard to refute."

Greg Smith, safety and health director for Stemilt Management of Wenatchee, an orchard managing company participating in the program, calls the Eyes and Falls Initiative a positive experience.

"I like what's happening," he said. "We're learning about their (L&I's) system, and they are better understanding us. They're trying something different. Instead of trying to enforce with an iron fist, they're trying to work with us."

Eyes and Falls has been nominated to receive the Governor's Award for Service and Quality Improvement. Recipients of the award will be announced Monday, Oct. 29.

The initiative is but one example of a new approach Labor & Industries has taken to solving thorny workplace-injury problems. Instead of focusing exclusively on enforcing compliance with the letter of the law, L&I employees first identify a hard-to-solve problem and then construct a program to address it.

Another area in which L&I recently has used that strategy is its Residential Framing Initiative. Launched this summer with the support of some industry trade organizations, the initiative has two goals: To reduce injuries among wood framers, and to spread the cost of industrial insurance and workplace safety over a larger number of employers. If both of those goals are met, the rate the state charges framers for industrial insurance will go down.

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For media information, contact: 
Robert Nelson, L&I, 360-902-6043, nelq235@lni.wa.gov

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