Yakima fruit grower fined after 2 workers die in tractor rollovers a month apart

December 7, 2023

TUMWATER — A Yakima fruit grower and processor has been fined nearly $300,000 by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) after two orchard workers died in tractor rollovers almost exactly a month apart.

The first fatality occurred May 7, when Borton & Sons employee Gilberto Padilla was driving a tractor on a county road between orchards when the front counterweights used to stabilize the tractor fell off. Padilla apparently drove over the weights, causing the tractor to roll.

The Roll Over Protection Structure (ROPS) on the tractor was not up at the time and Padilla was not wearing a seatbelt. ROPS are metal bars (i.e., rollbars), frames, or crush proof cabs on farm equipment designed to prevent an operator from being crushed by the tractor in the event of a rollover.

After the May fatality, L&I directed Borton & Sons supervisors to ensure that tractor drivers use ROPS and wear seat belts.

Just one month later, on June 8, L&I received a report of another tractor rollover fatality at Borton & Sons. Oscar Rodriguez-Olivera was applying calcium to an orchard using a tow-behind sprayer attached to his tractor. Witnesses said he was traveling down a slope when he made a sharp left turn and rolled. The ROPS was not up on the tractor and Rodriquez-Olivera was not wearing a seat belt.

“Using a rollover protection bar and seat belt is such a simple way to save workers’ lives. These incidents should not happen,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Orchard owners have the responsibility to make sure workers use safety systems. If Borton & Sons had been vigilant, these workers might be alive today.”

L&I cited Borton & Sons for five willful serious violations for the two incidents, citing them for the failure to use ROPS and seat belts, and for changing the scene of the June 8 accident before the inspection began. The agency classified the violations as “willful” because the company knew or should have known the requirements, but still failed to meet them. L&I also cited the violations as “serious” because the issues could, and in this case did, lead to serious injury or death.

The combined fine is $290,000. The company is appealing both cases.

 Safety records and more available to the public

At ProtectMyHome.net, consumers can easily check a company’s safety record as well as its registration, licensing, insurance, and other information. To see specific details of citations and fines, scroll down to the Workplace Safety & Health section and click on the hyperlinked inspection number.

For media information:

Matt Ross, L&I Public Affairs, 360-706-4857.

L&I Newsroom (https://lni.wa.gov/news-events).

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