Worker Safety and Health Practices Support Sustainability
"This effort to become 100 percent certified speaks volumes about our love for the land in Sonoma County, our commitment to environmental stewardship and that we value what is important to our consumers, including being good employers."
Effective human resources management is a key component of any organization’s sustainability program. At Bevill Vineyard Management, owner, Duff Bevill, knows that attracting and retaining reliable, skilled vineyard workers can improve productivity, profitability and sustainability. Job creation, training and managerial development strengthens and enhances the quality of community life.
From the late 1990’s through 2001, the California Association of Winegrape Growers worked closely with the Wine Institute to develop a new workbook, published in 2002, promoting continuous improvement through sustainable practices – this partnership is known as the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
“We did self-assessments for years. Immediately following the publishing of the CCWA workbook, Nick Frey and I made appointments with local AVA groups and helped facilitate their assessments, first in Dry Creek Valley, then in Sonoma Valley. Today’s CSWA code covers virtually all aspects of sustainability and can be applied to growing any crop,” Duff said. He added, “Having a comprehensive, self-governing industry code is far better than government intervention, or costly, burdensome government regulations.”
For many growers, sustainability means taking care of the land for the long term by adopting best practices. For Duff, it’s a holistic approach. It means doing things that are economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible. The social aspect includes taking good care of your employees.
Farm labor contractors are middleman between workers and the vineyards. In recent years, the labor component of farming has been turned over to management firms like Bevill. “Like any business, if you treat your workers with respect, they’ll remain loyal. I have workers who have been with me for 18, 20 and 30 years.”
Caring for employees involves on-the-job training, safety awareness, injury prevention, heat training,and even sexual harassment education, both in house, and reinforcement by a third party. If an accident occurs, Duff addresses it immediately with his staff and determines why and how it occurred and, more importantly, how to prevent it in the future. His managers hold monthly safety meetings, more frequently when issues arise, and remind employees about a variety of issues including drinking plentyof water and taking advantage of shaded rest areas. Said Duff, “We now harvest most of our fruit at night from 12:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Working in cool conditions results in less worker fatigue and eliminates heat-related illness.”
“We constantly watch out for their wellbeing. Our foremen teach workers how to do their jobs and prepare for them for the day’s work. On cold mornings, they advise our workers to lightly exercise to warm up,” he said. Duff has paid far above minimum wage levels for decades, but when he asks workers what’s important to them – surprisingly, pay is not their number 1 concern. Being treated with respect, liking the people they work with (including supervisors), and the ability to take PTO and time off forholidays ranks higher than pay or companyprovided health insurance.
“Good health makes good employees. Once an employee works with us for a year, he or she qualifies for a raise; receive paid holidays, PTO as well as health coverage. “We encourage our teams to use the insurance first to get base line physical exams and then access it for preventative care”.
Bevill employs around 60 full-time workers year-round. That number expands for pruning from January to March and during harvest season. “We try to extend the non-harvest periods to provide continuous employment opportunities so we can retain good workers.”
Today one out of every three farm workers is a woman. Looking ahead, Duff anticipates childcare for workers becoming an important issue with his employees. This will be an area of review each year. The Affordable Care Act will also begin covering some seasonal workers in 2016.
In February 2015 Bevill Vineyard Management will become CCSW certified. Duff says sustainability originated within the grower community, and he is whole-heartedly behind it.
Said Duff, “I have long felt that sustainability is the best approach to ensure we protect our land for future generations. It will also improve the quality of life for our employees, and enhance the community where we live and work. This effort to become 100 percent certified speaks volumes about our love for the land in Sonoma County, our commitment to environmental stewardship and that we value what is important to our consumers, including being good employers.”