Cal/OSHA Releases Revised Draft Nighttime Lighting Standard for Agriculture


In April of this year, Cal/OSHA (California Occupational Safety and Health) held a public hearing to consider specific requirements for lighting standards for working around agricultural equipment at night. The proposed new standard entitled “Outdoor Agricultural Operations During Hours of Darkness” was a result of a request by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) submitted to the Cal/OSHA Standards Board in 2013 claiming they had investigated a number of accidents occurring in agriculture during nighttime work activities, including serious injuries and one fatality. In reviewing the information, it was determined that these accidents occurred primarily in the early 2000’s when mechanical grape harvesting at night started to take off. There were no accidents after 2005. Labor group proponents for the changes testified that “rampant sexual harassment and poor farmworker eyesight were the drivers for the changes. However, they changed their story this year when the hearing was heard in April and stated that workers’ cars were being broken into and knife cuts from farmworkers harvesting corn at night were the primary reasons. None of these claims could ever be substantiated.

Reflective Safety Vests

The proposed regulation required that workers wear reflective safety vests during nighttime activities, to which all parties agreed is a good recommendation. But the more problematic requirement was a provision that required 10 foot-candle light power within a 25 foot radius of all operating agricultural equipment. While most agriculture equipment is equipped with headlights, only some equipment has lights in the rear and it is rare that any equipment has side lighting. This means that supplemental lighting must be brought in to meet the standard. Supplemental lighting is expensive, subject to additional regulatory requirements depending on the air district you are in, and most agricultural operations would have extreme difficulty in meeting the standard.

Revised Proposal

After the hearing in April, Cal/OSHA considered the comments and In October revised the proposed standard and released it for a 15 day public review. One of the biggest changes is to allow for “task lighting” where the lighting could be provided by a head lamp or other light, as long as it meets the appropriate illumination. However, in some instances the changes make the regulation harder to comply with or has been made too vague to work with. For example the rule now requires lighting of 5 foot-candle illumination to be provided for “general movement throughout the space” during outdoor agricultural operations. In addition, 5 foot-candle illumination shall be provided for pathways leading to and around restrooms and drinking water, inside restroom facilities and in storage areas accessed by employees. The standard still requires illumination in areas within 25 feet of agricultural equipment where workers are present to be at least 5 foot-candles, while working on exposed point of operation equipment or operationally visible moving parts of machinery must be at 10 foot-candles, and maintenance work on equipment must be at 20 foot-candles. However, one caveat contained in the proposed revisions is the area lighting should be measured at approximately 30 inches above the floor. This still requires portable light towers to be brought in to provide the necessary lighting.

Comments on the proposed 15 day revisions were due on October 18th, and a number of agricultural organizations submitted comments opposing the proposed regulation in general and highlighting the concerns with some of the proposed revisions. The Standards Board is scheduled to hear this sometime in next few months.