Punishments were ordered for a Sonoma County vineyard in a case involving the removal of a safety device from a tractor that killed a vineyard worker.
Defendants related to the case at Vino Farms, Inc. pled no contest to a misdemeanor violation of Labor Code section 6425, which prohibits removal of a manufacturer’s safety device, said Jill Ravitch, Sonoma County District Attorney.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Peter Ottenweller sentenced defendant James Poole, 61, of Windsor, to 30 days in jail and 80 hours of community service work for an organization dedicated to worker safety.
Additionally, Vino Farms, Inc. was ordered to pay restitution and fines totaling $200,000.
“All workers have the right to expect that they will come home at the end of the workday and that their employers will keep in place all manufacturers’ safety devices on equipment used for work," Ravitch said. "Companies and supervisors who disable safety devices will be held accountable for the sake of workers who depend on them.”
The single misdemeanor charge resulted from an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that revealed that the victim was working alone at a local vineyard on a tractor that had its “kill switch” removed, Ravitch said.
(The “kill switch” causes the tractor’s engine to stop running and moving forward when the driver leaves the seat.)
OSHA investigators concluded that on Jan. 22, 2011, when Mr. Ambriz-Luquin tried to get out of the tractor’s narrow opening, his clothing was caught, and, without the kill switch operable, the tractor moved forward pinning him beneath it overnight.
The victim survived for several days before the injuries he sustained resulted in his death. OSHA discovered that Vino Farms, Inc.’s manager, James Poole, had ordered the safety device removed from the tractor seat.
As part of the plea agreement, Vino Farms, Inc. agreed to pay restitution to the family of the deceased victim in the amount of $100,000 and be placed on probation for two years.
The company was ordered to pay an additional fine in the amount of $75,000 to the State of California, as well as $25,000 to Ag Safe, an organization dedicated to worker safety.
An additional penalty in the amount of seventy-five thousand dollars $75,000 was suspended, pending successful completion of probation by Vino Farms, Inc.
Vino Farms, Inc. agreed to change some of its procedures to comply with worker safety laws and to strengthen some of its policies to ensure that its workers will be able to get emergency help when working alone.
The case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Ann Gallagher White, and was investigated by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s Associate Engineer, Mark Harrington, by Senior Engineer, Steven Fenton and by OSHA Bureau of Investigation’s Mike Byrne.