Employees at Gilbert Orchards were given the pesticide Fumitoxin to use on gophers, but were not given appropriate respirators or proper training in the use of the toxic substance.
The movie "Caddyshack" famously features actor Bill Murray, as groundskeeper Carl Spackler, spending most of his time trying to kill the gophers who have set up shop on a golf course. Time and time again, his increasingly dangerous attempts to kill the critters fail.
Something similar happened at a Yakima, Wash., orchard, but since this is real life, the employer is facing $105,000 in fines from the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) for 12 serious and repeat-serious health violations for not providing respirators or training for workers using a toxic pesticide.
The state began the inspection in March after receiving information that employees were hand-applying a pesticide used to kill gophers, called Fumitoxin. Fumitoxin is a restricted-use pesticide that contains aluminum phosphide, which reacts with water to release phosphine gas. The gas is highly toxic and can be deadly.
Employers who use restricted-use pesticides must ensure that workers are trained to properly use respirators and work with hazardous chemicals. They must provide the proper respirators and fit-test them to ensure a tight fit. The employer also must post warning signs in treated areas, monitor the workers during the work activity and meet other requirements.
The inspection found that workers were applying the toxic pellets by hand, sprinkling them into gopher holes and adding water to activate the poison, while wearing the wrong respiratory protection.
Gilbert Orchards was fined $14,000 each for three repeat-serious violations. The employer was previously cited in July 2014 for not developing a specific respiratory protection program or fit-testing the respirators. The employer also was fined the maximum penalty of $7,000 each for nine serious violations related to respirator requirements and hazardous chemicals.
In addition, the employer was cited for three general violations related to a lack of hand-washing and toilet facilities, recordkeeping and not providing medical evaluations for employees required to wear respirators. General violations typically don’t carry a penalty.
The company has until Sept. 8 to appeal. Penalty money paid in connection with a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.