June 1, 2001
Pictsweet Mushroom Farms has been fined $7,475 by state regulators for safety violations, including a forklift accident that cost a worker one of his hands.
The injured employee, Enrique Diaz Lupian, had to have his hand amputated a week after his arm was crushed. Investigators from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division say Lupian was caught between a door and a trash bin carried by the forklift. An untrained driver at the Salem plant mistakenly put the vehicle in forward instead of reverse.
"I don't blame anyone," said Lupian. "I simply ask that the supervisors pay more attention to who they ask to drive a forklift."
Union activists with the Woodburn-based Northwest treeplanters and Farmworkers United, better known by its Spanish acronym PCUN, held a press conference in Portland Thursday with Lupian and other mushroom farm workers to draw attention to the report from OR-OSHA, as the safety
and health division is known.
"It further substantiates what workers and we've been saying all along," said Erik Nicholson, a PCUN representative. PCUN has been trying to organize Pictsweet workers into a union.
Earlier this year, a small group of Pictsweet mushroom pickers approached PCUN, complaining mainly about pay. Pickers earn a piece rate for harvesting mushrooms.
But PCUN officials say workers also had concerns about health and safety conditions, such as insufficient lighting and narrow, hard-to-climb stairs on mushroom beds. The recent accident highlights worries about forklift safety in the tight quarters of the mushroom farm.
Don Dresser, a spokesman for Pictsweet's Tennessee headquarters, said he had not seen the OR-OSHA report and declined comment.
State officials say the comprehensive safety inspection of Pictsweet was scheduled before PCUN showed up. OR-OSHA also was checking out an anonymous complaint about the mushroom farm, which PCUN says it had nothing to do with.
The accident that cost Lupian his hand came one day after OR-OSHA started an inspection of the plant, state officials said.
OR-OSHA investigators found 13 safety violations at the Salem plant, including nine items they categorized as "serious" violations.
Steve Corson, spokesman for OR-OSHA, said the penalty levied on Pictsweet was substantial. The company has 20 days to appeal.
"Forklifts are potentially dangerous and you really do need training,"Corson said. Over the past six years, forklift accidents have killed at least seven people in Oregon. Two more fatalities that may have been caused by forklifts are under investigation. Last year alone, more than 220 people in Oregon were hurt in accidents involving lift trucks.
Among the items OR-OSHA noted in its report on Pictsweet: The company "did not fully assure that only trained workers" were operating lift trucks, and failed to "provide enough supervision over employees."
Corson said OSHA has opened a separate inspection of health conditions at the Pictsweet plant, which may involve a variety of issues such as air quality. Results of that inspection are pending.
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