They have alternatively been referred to by various monikers, including but not limited to: “personnel transport platforms,” “personnel transportation units,” “tractor personnel carriers,” and “tractor baskets,” among other names. But the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“DOSH”), better known as Cal/OSHA, appears to have settled on “tractor-mounted personnel platforms.” (TPPs) Whatever they are called, they have been safely and effectively used to transport workers on the farm, especially in the field irrigation process, for more than two decades.
While Cal/OSHA staff issued inconsistent opinions about the legality of the implements starting in 2010, in 2011 under then Chief Ellen Widess, Cal/OSHA took the position that use of TPPs to transport workers is a violation of Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations (CCR) section 3441(a)(2)(B), which prohibits “riders on agricultural equipment other than persons required for instruction or assistance in machine operation.”
In September 2011, Bakersfield-based Grimmway Farms applied for a Temporary Experimental Variance (TEV) with DOSH and simultaneously applied for a Permanent Variance with the Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board. A TEV is a type of temporary variance that allows an employer to “participate in an experiment… designed to demonstrate or validate new and improved techniques to safeguard the health or safety of workers.” (Labor Code section 6452). A TEV allows the employer to gather the information necessary for the Standards Board to evaluate a permanent variance application. To obtain a permanent variance, the employer must show that the proposed variance would provide safety equal to or better than the existing standard.
DOSH granted Grimmway a one-year TEV in May 2012 which was extended for two 180-day periods. The company was also recently granted a permanent variance by the Standards Board for use of TPPs in the field, but not on farm roads. Grimmway was directed to conduct additional testing of the safety for use on farm roads which will be conducted pursuant to their existing TEV, and possibly a new TEV.
DOSH Issues Guidance on Variance Process
Grimmway’s success in obtaining a TEV, and ultimately a permanent variance, did not come without significant cost. The company submitted stacks of documents and submitted to monthly inspections as part of a proposal to “reduce heat illness and fatigue by providing transport platforms attached to tractors for employees who lay or remove irrigation pipe in furrowed fields containing row crops.”
As part of the TEV process, the company had to develop and implement a “Transport Platform Safety Program” and abide by various rules regarding use of the TPPs, such as observing speed limits, limiting the number of employees on the platform, and mandatory use of seatbelts. They also had to demonstrate that each TPP was constructed of detailed specifications for structural steel and tubing. The recordkeeping for the TEV process took up a substantial amount of Grimmway’s Director of Safety and Workers’ Compensation Joel Sherman’s time.
The process to obtain a variance was simply too cumbersome and expensive for most family farmers to endure. Plus a lack of written standards for submitting a variance request made the variance process mysterious and daunting for most. Western Growers staff requested that the DOSH clarify the process and use the knowledge gained from Grimmway’s experiment to help streamline the variance requests of similarly situated operations.
We are pleased that DOSH has issued a fairly straightforward guidance for requesting a TEV for tractor-mounted personnel platforms. To apply for a TEV, an employer should send a signed letter to Julianne Sum, acting chief of Cal/OSHA, at 1515 Clay Street, Suite 1901, Oakland, California, 94612. The letter should identify the regulatory section from which you are seeking a variance [8 CCR 3441(a)(2)(B)] and describe how you will provide equivalent safety to the existing standard.
After the application is received, a DOSH safety engineer will contact the applicant and may request additional information needed to evaluate the application (see sidebar).
Once the application is complete, Christine Baker, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, will evaluate the application and determine whether to approve the experiment. If approved, DOSH staff will review the proposed variance conditions and, if appropriate, issue a TEV. The initial TEV may be in effect for up to one year and may be extended for up to two 180-day periods. The goal of the TEV is to gather sufficient information for Cal/OSHA to determine whether a permanent variance should be granted, and under what conditions.
Western Growers members with “red tagged” TPPs should consider applying for a TEV, since the process should be less costly and burdensome then it was previously.
Information Needed to Grant a TEV to Use Tractor Mounted Personnel Platforms
For a “temporary experimental variance” (TEV) to allow the use of tractor mounted personnel platforms, please include the following information and documentation with your TEV application, or provide the information when requested by Division staff.
Note: If a specific equipment design has already been evaluated by an engineer and the equipment is to be used in substantially the same circumstances as addressed in the previous evaluation, another engineering evaluation may not be necessary.
1. Description of how the personnel platform is attached to the tractor, including the specifications for the means of attachment
2. Locations of all fields (closest intersection or equivalent description) where personnel platforms will be used
3. Description of the terrain upon which occupied personnel platforms will be used
4. Engineering design for the tractor mounted personnel platform(s) to be used, including: specifications for materials of construction, weld designs and procedures, and load calculations, including weight of personnel platform and maximum occupancy load
5. Specific tractors to be used with tractor mounted personnel platforms (manufacturer and model number) including capacity of the tractor (including ballast), and the three point hitch or other point of attachment
6. Electronic copy (PDF or website link) of operating manual for tractors
7. Counterweight to be used on each tractor equipped with a personnel carrier
8. Written “Personnel Platform Safety Program” in English and Spanish, including:
a. Specification of “Safe Practices” to be adhered to by tractor operators and riders, including any limitations and restrictions of use
b. Specification of the number of riders that will be permitted and work activities to be subject to the variance
c. Procedures employer will use to ensure that all affected employees and supervisors adhere to all “Safe Practices”
9. Training program for tractor drivers, and employees who will use personnel platforms and their supervisors. This should include:
a. Instruction to be provided in Spanish and English (and any other language necessary to be understood by employees)
b. Frequency of training
c. How training will be documented
d. How the effectiveness of training will be periodically audited
10. Welding certification for employees or contractors who build personnel carriers
11. Maintenance and inspection procedures for tractors and personnel platforms including the following inspection forms (in English and Spanish):
a. Daily physical inspection of personnel platforms by drivers and other trained users, and their supervisors
b. Random physical inspection of personnel platforms by employer’s safety employees
Note: On all forms, include sufficient space for documenting corrections of any deficiencies discovered during inspections.
12. Recordkeeping procedures for maintenance, inspections, corrective actions, and training
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