YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries is creating a new team aimed at improving farmworker safety.
When fully staffed, the agriculture compliance unit will create 16 new positions, the Yakima Herald reported. Thirteen of those posts will focus on agriculture worksite inspection and safety complaints. Three will work on education and outreach to farm operators and employees, according to a news release.
The agency formed the new team in response to “an unprecedented” 433 agriculture inspections in 2020. Those inspections led to employer citations for more than 500 violations.
Worker fatalities in agriculture also increased from 10 in 2019 to 14 in 2020. Three deaths were from COVID-19, with the remaining deaths from preventable workforce hazards, such as tractor rollovers and machinery-related incidents.
The new agriculture unit is expected to be in place before the end of the upcoming growing and harvest seasons. Funding for the new team was approved in the new state budget signed by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this week.