Safety, ergonomics and productivity are top of mind for longtime tomato grower Dave Ryall.
Shortly before his retirement, he hosted a delegation from the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association for a tour of his Gipaanda Greenhouses operation at Ladner, B.C.
“If owning or a supervisor, you always have to be walking the place thinking about ergonomics,” he said.
Balancing safe practices with efficient production became even more important when his business growing hot house tomatoes jumped to 18 acres in size.
Ryall installed long tracks of pipe to accommodate carts so that he could eliminate the time and effort spent stringing up vines in the high wire layering system.
“We used to spend more time walking,” he said.
Carts elevate workers up and down or move them across the track and allow for easier access to the vines during the growing period and at harvest. Buckets with cleaning solutions for pruning tools were added to the carts to reduce stooping and bending by workers.
“The greenhouse was engineered so it is at staff levels,” he said.
The amount of glass in the greenhouse was also a concern, so Ryall implemented evacuation drills twice a year in which workers practice grabbing a tote to protect themselves from breaking glass as they leave the site.
The operation also has at least one person per shift trained in first aid.
Other safety measures included installing good lighting and blocking truck wheels when loading tomatoes.
With 120 employees and a worker turnover of 30 people a year, Ryall said training is required before anyone starts work.
He also encouraged English-as-a-second-language programs for his largely landed immigrant staff to improve communication.
A shrink wrap machine in the packing room features sensors that automatically stop the machine if someone comes too close.
Boilers used to heat the year-round operation also contain sensors that shut them off if high temperatures are reached. Workers who service the underground tanks, drain tiles and sump pumps must take confined space training. A fan for air circulation and gauges metering the air also were installed.
“We have to make sure the air is good for them,” Ryall said.