The Crush April2022 - 1

Volume 49 | Issue 4 | April 2022
Autonomous Vineyard Equipment
Article by Ted Rieger
The development of new technologies for autonomous
tractors and equipment to perform vineyard operations
offer great promise to address labor shortage issues, enable
the ability to perform work at night and for extended hours
when needed, enhance worker safety and improve overall
efficiency and precision in work operations. New autonomous
technologies that offer driverless, or driver optional,
operation have been developed and trialed at vineyards in
California and other locations.
Tractor accidents are considered a leading cause of serious
injury and fatalities in agriculture resulting from rollovers
and accidents due to factors that include human error and
fatigue. Although a key reason for developing and using
autonomous ag equipment is to improve worker safety,
ironically, current California safety regulations require an
operator to be stationed at the vehicular controls for all
self-propelled equipment, thus hindering the deployment of
autonomous equipment and new technologies in California
Current California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR)
regulations under Title 8, Section 3441 (b) date to the 1970s
and are viewed by the industry as outdated and ambiguous
given current technology. A petition (Petition File No. 596)
was submitted by Monarch Tractor CEO Praveen Penmetsa
on behalf of his company to the Occupational Safety and
Health Standards Board (OSHSB) December 15, 2021 to
request an update to the DIR regulation " to allow for the
use of driver optional tractors without a human operator
stationed at the vehicular controls within a strict set of
safety guidelines. " The petitioner proposes inclusion
of additional safety enhancements
and assurances, including anti-rollover
control, collision prevention, and
fail safes at every level of operation.
Monarch was previously granted a
temporary experimental variance from the Division of
Occupational Safety and Health to operate driver-optional
tractors for trials at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, and at
Crocker & Starr estate vineyards in Napa Valley.
CAWG director of government affairs Michael Miiller drafted
and submitted a letter of support for the petition to the
OSHSB February 11, 2022 on behalf of a California ag
industry coalition of 18 organizations that include CAWG,
Wine Institute, Family Winemakers of California, and Farm
Bureau. The letter states, " We urge the Board to work
Photo provided courtesy of Monarch Tractor..
closely with all manufacturers as well as ag employees and
employers to amend Section 3441 (b) to ensure the highest
safety standards are maintained and future advancements in
technology are addressed. "
The OSHSB has six months to grant or deny the petition
from the date of submission and could act as early as its
May 2022 meeting. Petitions granted commonly go to an
advisory committee to review the petitioner's proposal, that
may result in developing a proposed or revised standard for
public hearing. A copy of the petition can be viewed at www.

The Crush April2022

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The Crush April2022 - 1
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