By Melanie Mesaros
Like many of Oregon's wineries, Adelsheim Vineyard in Newberg started as a small, family-owned operation in a cramped basement with a simple crusher and press. Now 40 years since the first vintage, the company has matured into a business with a grand tasting room, modern production facility, and 250 acres of red and white grapes.
As growth led to more demands on production, the vineyard added more employees. Through it all, Adelsheim's Vineyard Manager Chad Vargas said they have stayed committed to safety.
"Bigger wineries often assume they have a team in place that knows what to do," he said. "Be consistent and don't get complacent."
According to the Oregon Wine Board, the state had a total of 463 wineries in 2011 – a 10 percent increase over the previous year, signaling an industry that is still booming. With all the startups, growing pains are evident in the accepted disabling workers' compensation claims for the industry, which have increased since 2006. The majority of claims relate to overexertion such as sprains and strains, and falls.
From tractor and ATV safety to repetitive motion injuries, Vargas is always keeping an eye on his crews and promotes stretching.
"You have a lot of guys bending over all day," he said. "We have knee pads for staff and tell them if your back is bothering you, take a break. Around harvest time, we'll start the day with some calisthenics – jumping jacks and knee bends. Some of the mornings we get started in October, it's pretty cold."
After grapes are harvested and de-stemmed, Adelsheim's pinots and syrah take shape in stainless tanks, where fruit is left to ferment for 10 to 14 days. To minimize safety risks, Gina Hennen, assistant winemaker, said solids are dug out from a door at the bottom of the tanks, which allows workers to avoid entering them.
Tracy Faulds, who chairs Adelsheim's safety committee, said the company is very safety-minded compared to other wineries where she has worked.
"We have the buddy system so no one is ever alone in the winery," Faulds said. "That's really important during harvest when things are wet and slippery and everyone is tired."
Faulds said each month the safety committee tackles specific issues, including exposure to carbon dioxide (a concern during the fermentation process), safe lifting (she once pinched her finger after moving a heavy barrel against a cellar wall), and hazard communication.
Gary Beck, Oregon OSHA's safety enforcement manager, said wineries and vineyards are frequently cited for not having a safety committee. Under the Oregon OSHA rule, safety committees are required for employers with 11 or more employees. Meetings are permitted for businesses with 10 or fewer employees.
"Encourage employee involvement through your safety committee or with safety meetings," Beck said. "The employees can also help identify training needs and concerns."
Vargas, who has been in the wine industry for 12 years, said to be successful, wineries need to focus on more than just production or marketing.
"It (safety) just never crosses their mind until someone gets hurt," said Vargas. "Especially if you are small, you may be short handed and not well-trained. When you are hiring, people will always tell you they have more skills than they do. Make them do a demonstration."
*No. 2 and 3 tied for number of violations.
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