WSDA Safety Officer
WSDA Safety Officer
F&V inspector, Russell Burkett, checking apples
at a produce packing facility.
As our agency’s safety team continues its initiative to shadow WSDA employees to learn about their work safety concerns, it falls on each of the safety officers to spend time in the field. For my job shadow day, I spent time with Russell Burkett, an inspector with the WSDA Fruit and Vegetable (F&V) Inspection Program.
As part of a fairly standard work day, Russell visits a different packing warehouse each month. I was able to see firsthand some of the workplace hazards Russell and all of our F&V inspectors encounter.
Potential packing warehouse risks
For instance, forklift traffic is common in produce packing warehouses. Most operate on propane, which puts carbon monoxide (CO) into the air. I advise F&V staff to be extra cautious when in forklift traffic areas, and to report any type of CO symptoms to a supervisor or me so we can check the air quality.
Also, many warehouses use chemicals, such as ammonia, acid, and chlorine. These can present hazards. For instance, in December 2016, some residents of the town of Zillah were evacuated due to an ammonia leak from a fruit company warehouse. I encourage workers to know where to find Safety Data Sheets. These are important documents that give details about hazardous chemicals and how they affect health and safety in the workplace.
Once every month, I give a presentation to the F&V staff in Yakima about hazards they may encounter and how to deal with them.
Along with my safety focus on these shadowing visits, I’ve learned more about why it’s so important for F&V inspectors to spend most of their day being physically present at the industry facilities they serve.
Inspectors key link for industry
WSDA serves the produce industry by ensuring they meet quality standards, especially for the products they export outside the U.S. Different countries require various levels of inspection. Generally, F&V staff inspects about two percent of every 100 pieces being shipped – that equals 24-40 apples from every box.
Inspectors assess a grade (e.g. #1 Extra Fancy Red Delicious) and condition for defects such as decay, skin breaks, color, blemishes and so forth. They’ll do pressure and sweetness tests. Determining ripeness may involve a chew, thumb or starch iodine test. These are technical processes that require a good deal of training to learn.
According to F&V data, Washington shipped 46 million apples between October 2016 and the start of 2017. Washington is tops in the nation for apple production, on average producing 2.5 million tons of apples per year valued at more than $2 billion.
“Without the services of F&V inspectors, we could lose about 10 loads a day,” commented the warehouse manager I spoke with. “Having them in our warehouse provides peace of mind.”
The WSDA safety team is committed to making sure our employees are protected from workplace hazards – so they can consistently provide these vital services to Washington State and return home safe and healthy every day.