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Worker died after being submerged in flooded cranberry field

Date of incident: October 2013
Notice of incident number: 2013161940161
Employer: Supplier of farm labour

Incident summary
A cranberry farm hired farm workers through a farm labour supply company. Two workers were working in a flooded field harvesting cranberries. Two ditches crossed the field, with markers indicating their position. There were raised crosswalks across each ditch. While harvesting berries in the flooded fields, workers are wading in water and not able to see the bottom. One worker attempted to step across a ditch, but he was not at a crosswalk. He fell into the ditch, which was about 6 feet under the surface of the water, and he became submerged. The worker called for help, and co-workers rescued him. The worker was transported to the hospital in serious condition. The worker died in hospital.

Investigation conclusions

  • The worker crossed the ditch at an unsafe area: The worker entered the water in an area that required him to cross two ditches. It is not known why the worker did not use the crosswalk to cross the ditch, which was 6 feet deep.

Underlying factors

  • Lack of health and safety programs: If either or both firms had a safety program, it would have illustrated the need to safely plan work, contained written safe work procedures, and provided templates for risk assessments to be performed. A safety program would have also been used to educate workers on the hazard of drowning. The lack of a safety program by both firms was an underlying factor in this incident.
  • Lack of planning, risk assessments, and safe work procedures: The failure of both firms to safely plan the work, conduct risk assessments, and develop and provide safe work procedures to the workers was an underlying factor in this incident.
  • Lack of buoyancy equipment: Personal flotation devices were available at the farm on the day of the incident. Neither firm ensured that the workers in the flooded cranberry field were using personal flotation devices. The failure of the two firms to mandate the use of personal flotation devices in order to protect their workers from the drowning hazard was an underlying factor in this incident.
  • Lack of rescue procedures: There was no assigned worker to coordinate a rescue, and workers had not been equipped and trained in rescue procedures. The lack of a procedure for rescuing a drowning worker was an underlying factor in this incident.
  • Lack of supervision: Although a manager and supervisor were at the cranberry farm, work was carried out without the proper safety plans, risk assessments, safe work procedures, worker training, and rescue procedures being in place. A lack of appropriate safety supervision was an underlying factor in this incident.

Request the full report

Additional resources:

Toolbox meeting guide:
Using personal flotation devices and lifejackets in cranberry fields and reservoirs

WorkSafe Bulletin:
Flooded cranberry fields and reservoirs may pose drowning risk

Publication Date: Oct 2013 Asset type: Incident Investigation Report Summary NI number: 2013161940161