The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) Standards Board recently held a public hearing on the proposed nighttime lighting requirements for agricultural operations. Several ag industry groups expressed concern regarding the cost to ag operations to comply with the new standard and whether further restriction is justified. Ag employers were also previously encouraged to convey their concerns to Cal/OSHA regarding how it was genuinely going to affect them.
“The main point in opposition is that the standard would require in work areas, five foot-candles of illumination,” said Carl Borden, Senior Counsel for the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF). “We think that that type of level of illumination is both unnecessary and unrealistic in many circumstances.”
Other organizations that voiced concerns in opposition of the new standard included the Western Agricultural Processors Association, California Association of Winegrape Growers, and the California Poultry Federation. Borden noted that ensuring the safety of workers is of the utmost importance but expressed doubt as to whether such strict guidelines and penalties were truly warranted. “If a CAL/Osha inspector, field inspector, were to come out to find that ‘oh it’s only 4.9 foot-candles,’’ Borden noted. “The employer would then be cited for that. That would be greatly unjust.”
Proponents of the new nighttime lighting requirements also spoke during the hearing, highlighting the average cost of a worker injury being nearly $13,000. Supporters also made the claim that more than 2,000 injuries occur every year because of a lack of adequate illumination when working during nighttime hours. “The figure seems grossly high and does not really take into account whether those injuries were caused by the lack of illumination or whether they merely occurred at night,” said Borden.
The Economic Impact Assessment/Analysis was a particular point of contention, with Borden describing it as “skewed in both directions.” Borden said the analysis overestimated “the cost-savings that employers would receive from the standard by reduction in Workers Compensation costs. And then also the cost of implementation seems way underestimated.”
Borden also noted that the size of the equipment cited in the analysis would not adequately meet the new nighttime lighting requirements. The specific lighting tower and rechargeable generator listed in the analysis would be insufficient to perform the necessary duties expected of the equipment. The alternative, a gas-powered generator, would be significantly more expensive to operate and would create another issue in relation to emission levels.
Listen to Borden’s interview below.