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Alert: Vine Pulling Machines on Farms

Vine pulling machines are a significant cause of farm injuries. Many injuries are caused by workers being drawn into the pinch point created when the tarp is winding onto the removable shaft on the vine pulling machines.

There have been several incidents involving vine pulling machines used at greenhouses. Recently, two greenhouse labourers at two separate operations suffered arm amputations while working on vine pulling machines. Over the past few years, the Ministry of Labour has received reports of several other amputations or serious arm fractures related to the use of vine pulling machines.

Background

There are many large commercial greenhouses in Essex County, the Municipality of Chatham-Kent and Lambton County. Each greenhouse can cover many acres and can contain hundreds of rows of crops. Typically, crops are grown in cubes of growing media that are irrigated by drip or trickle systems. Crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are grown on vines that grow several feet high on suspended strings.

At the end of the growing cycle, the old vines and strings must be removed from the greenhouse. To accomplish this, tarpaulins that are three to four feet wide and up to a few hundred feet long are rolled out between rows of plants. These tarpaulins are referred to as “tarps,” “belts,” “plastic” or “carpets”.

As the tarps are very heavy when weighed down with waste vines, powered machines are required to reel in the tarps; these machines may travel very quickly. Vine pulling machines can be self-contained machines with an onboard diesel or gasoline engine, an electric motor, or they can driven hydraulically from a tractor. The tarps are wound onto removable shafts that are placed into the machine.

After the tarps are rolled out, workers cut down the vines and strings and place them on the tarps. Powered equipment is used to reel up the tarps, pulling all the vines and strings out of the rows and into the centre aisles of the greenhouse for collection and disposal.

This process is known as “vine pulling”. Sometimes the vines are simultaneously pulled out of the rows and fed into a grinding operation to reduce the volume of the waste. This is known as “vine grinding”.

On farms, the hazards associated with the use of vine pullers can be minimized by using a guard around the intake of the vine pullers. Should a guard be impractical, then other reasonable precautions must be taken to ensure workers do not come in contact with moving parts.

Guards that are supplied with the vine pulling machines are reportedly removed because:

  • the guard may reduce the vine pulling capacity
  • guards may make the positioning of the vine pulling difficult
  • guards may slow the unblocking of vine pulling
  • guards may prevent the worker from cleaning the moving roller shaft
  • guards may impede the flow of waste product into the vine pulling machine.

Issues with vine pulling guards may be overcome with the use of guards designed specifically for the operation for which the machines are being used.

Hazards

Vine pulling machines can present several safety risks for workers who are exposed to the rollers and shafts which may entangle them. Most injuries are crush injuries or amputation of fingers, hands, arms and feet. Such injuries may be fatal.

Workers near this equipment are exposed to hazards from several moving parts, particularly the pinch point that is created when the tarp is winding onto the removable shaft.

The workers may be close to this pinch point when they are attempting to start winding the tarp onto the removable shaft. Workers may be standing too near the equipment when they are guiding the tarp during the vine pulling operation. The length of the tarp should be sufficient enough to wrap around the spindle before engagement to prevent access to the roller once the machine is powered-up.

Controls

Vine pulling machines are used extensively in the farming greenhouse sector. The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires the employer to take “every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker”. In most circumstances, the most reasonable precaution would be to provide a guard or other device, or a physical barrier to prevent worker access to the moving roller shafts or the moving tarp of the vine puller machines.

Employers should ensure that workers who are using vine pulling machines are aware of the dangers associated with the equipment and how to safely use vine pulling machines, including how to safely clear obstructions in the vine pulling machines.

Appropriate protective footwear and tight-fitting clothing should be worn to reduce the hazards associated with vine pulling machines.

For more information, contact:

NOTE: In workplaces where the Regulation for Industrial Establishments applies, under Section 24 and 25 the vine pulling machines must be guarded so that the worker is unable to access a moving part that may endanger the worker.

This Ministry of Labour Alert has no legal effect and does not constitute – and is not a substitute for – legal advice. If you require specific assistance with respect to the interpretation of a legislative provision and its potential application to you, please contact your legal counsel.

Remember that while complying with occupational health and safety laws, you are also required to comply with applicable environmental laws.

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