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Amy Wolfe

President & CEO, AgSafe

Amy Wolfe

Wolfe is leading AgSafe into its next 20 years, as the organization continues to educate workers and employers on how to work safely in one of California's most hazardous industries.

Resume: Prior to taking the leadership role at AgSafe, Wolfe was owner and principal consultant at P3 Consulting, and before that she was vice president with the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation. She was account executive with E&J Gallo Winery and began her career as a California State Assembly legislative aide and Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellow.

Schools:  She received a master of public policy and administration degree from California State University, Sacramento, and her B.S. degree in agriculture from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Awards:  She was awarded the American Farm Bureau Federation National Discussion Meet Winner in 2007 and California Farm Bureau Federation State Discussion Meet Winner in 2006.

Certifications/Designations: She is past president of the Agricultural Awareness and Literacy Foundation, was chair of the Albie Carson Breast Cancer Foundation in 2009, and member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She is on the boards or councils of a variety of volunteer organizations, including the California State Farm, California Women for Agriculture, the Girl Scouts in Central California, Modesto Rotary Club, Leadership Modesto, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the United Way of Stanislaus County. Wolfe is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), has a Human Resources Manager Certificate, and is a Salzburg Global Seminar Fellow.

Mentor:  Wolfe says she has learned the most from Alethea Leandro-Far and Raul Calvo, of James G. Parker Insurance Associates; Joe Martinez and Elvia Martinez-Mulles, of DLL Insurance Agency; Steve Lindstrom and Javier Hernandez, of Walker L. Clark and Associates, Inc.; and Joe Zavala and Rick Ragsdale, of State Compensation Insurance Fund.

Favorite book:  “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

 

Q&A

What are the top issues in California occupational safety and health today?

California’s agricultural industry shares many of the same safety and health issues impacting other major industries, but also has its own unique set of challenges. Heat illness prevention continues to be a priority, protecting our workers in the elements. As a result, we continue to provide training and resources to the industry to ensure workers are prepared when temperatures begin to rise.

There are other safety and health issues that agriculture, in particular, is focusing time, attention and resources on. Given the dynamics of our industry, there is an emphasis on lockout/tagout, machine guarding, and forklift and tractor operator safety, to name a few. Our education and outreach efforts on these topics are integrated into overarching discussions about the importance of having holistic injury and illness prevention programs. Agricultural employers must have a sound injury and illness prevention program on which they build supplemental safety protocol unique to their operation, which includes the risks that are a current priority.

In broader terms, I believe businesses in general are working hard to stay in compliance with the litany of regulations that impact occupational safety and health. This spectrum crosses federal and state agency boundaries and as a result, there is a bureaucratic quagmire that poses real challenges to employers, particularly small-business owners.

More often than not, we work with employers genuinely committed to ensuring their workers’ safety and health. The issue is their lack of regulatory understanding and in practical terms, how to translate the legalese of regulation into step-by-step procedures for their business. That process takes time and money, along with insight into the intent of the regulation so as to ensure the procedures created meet the desired outcome. In short, it is an overwhelming burden that needs to be addressed by the regulatory agencies with oversight, as well as the business community.

 

Injury and illness rates continue to decrease, with some exceptions. What's the next great leap forward in occupational safety and health?

The next great leap forward will be the furthered integration of technology and how it can positively impact safety and health. Agriculture has traditionally been a very progressive industry in its development and use of technology. Consider the creation of shakers, equipment that mechanically removes nuts from a tree. The technology not only improved harvesting efficiency, but it also mitigated risk to workers when the job had been done by hand.

The cautionary tale with technology, though, is that while it can help by modifying or even eliminating certain risk, new challenges will develop. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has identified equipment as the most common source of workplace fatalities and serious injuries. As a result, moving toward more sophisticated equipment will mean being mindful of new hazards and learning how best to protect workers.

 

One group – Hispanics/Latinos -- suffers a disproportionate number of injuries and illnesses. Why? How should California address this problem?

The Hispanic/Latino population is the backbone of California’s agricultural industry. These men and women serve in the fields, are supervisors and foremen and are integrated throughout the hierarchies of agriculture businesses. My assessment is that because this dedicated group of individuals makes up such a large portion of our workforce is the reason the data indicates a greater number of injuries and illnesses.

Our industry has made great strides to provide training and resources to all workers and the Hispanic/Latino population in particular. We can continue to improve these efforts, ensuring that education and materials address the language, literacy and cultural needs of our workforce. AgSafe, in particular, has been working with other trade associations, academic partners and agricultural businesses to integrate proven techniques that are more effective at communicating safety and health messages to all workers.

 

The Injury and Illness Prevention Program is the basic safety requirement for California employers. Now Fed-OSHA is working toward adopting its version of this requirement. Does the California IIPP standard need revision or is it fine the way it is? And if it needs revision, how so?

California’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program standard continues to provide more than adequate detail on how businesses must develop and integrate a holistic employee safety and health program. At this stage, a revision of the California standard is an unnecessary use of time and resources. Opportunity still exists to educate more employers across industries on our current standard, as well as provide assistance in how best to implement a well-rounded, thorough IIPP.

 

If you could change anything about Cal/OSHA, what would it be?
                a. Should enforcement be increased?
                b. Communications
                c. Training for inspectors

I have two observations. One is narrow in scope, the other more broad. Regulations are in place that specifically impact the agricultural industry. As a result, individuals that have a strong working knowledge of this industry are the most effective at enforcing those regulations. In reality, though, Cal/OSHA has a limited number of enforcement staff with the robust professional background and education to knowledgeably oversee the activities of the agricultural industry.

A great example of this gap is with regards to the aerosol transmissible disease - zoonotic standard [infectious disease transmission from animals to humans]. This standard requires an understanding of animal disease pathology to know, in the case of an outbreak, how diseases manifest and the potential risk to workers. If a Cal/OSHA staff member has no knowledge of animal disease pathology, it is arguably difficult for that person to know if the standard is being followed appropriately. There is merit to ensuring Cal/OSHA enforcement staff have the training and expertise needed to fully understand the nuances of an industry so as to not only understand if regulations are being followed but also to accomplish the ultimate goal of protecting the workforce.

My broader observation is specific to communication. Cal/OSHA, like its state agency counterparts, can benefit greatly from improving internal and external communication. Specifically, as one of the central entities overseeing workforce safety and health, Cal/OSHA can do a better job of collaborating both enforcement and consultation efforts with other regulators. For example, Cal/OSHA has worked during the summer months with EEEC, the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security to conduct coordinated sweeps. There is no reason these partnerships cannot extend throughout the year in an outreach capacity to meet with employers to discuss regulation and compliance issues.

In addition, Cal/OSHA appears to be a creature of habit, reaching out to the same industry groups time and time again in their quest to connect with businesses. The time has come to reach beyond the comfort zone, develop new relationships and learn from a more diverse cross section of industries – agriculture in particular. I know the Cal/OSHA team would be pleasantly surprised by the positive work being done to protect farmworkers that isn’t always reflected in their discussions with their usual network.

 

Some observers say injury and illness rates are higher than they appear because employers find ways to hide injuries, or not record them. Do you agree this is a serious problem and if so, how should it be addressed?

I believe that every industry, including agriculture, has bad actors. I also believe that in today’s 24-7, information-at-your-fingertips world, those bad actors take center stage and the average person believes the sins of the minority are the actions of the majority. It is disingenuous to say that injury and illness rates are higher because employers are hiding information. That is taking a tone with employers that says, “We naturally believe you are doing bad, and doing harm.”

I meet regularly with employers who are looking for assistance in determining the best way to protect their workers. These business owners understand that their people are their most valuable asset. The bigger issue is in understanding what the regulations mean in practice and developing a system that is most effective for each individual business.

 

California  has a long history of crafting groundbreaking regulations that the rest of the country eventually picks up. What's the next one?

I go back to the integration of technology in how we do business and the potential hazards that exist for employees. This arena is quite vast and in the context of our industry, beyond the scope of large agricultural equipment. I look at the prevalence of smartphones in how we do business today. I envision additional regulations specific to mobile technology, as all industries become more dependent upon the devices.

 

Will AB 2774 resolve the problems cited by DOSH on serious violations and provide a more equitable appeals system? If not, how should it be reformed?

 In my capacity at AgSafe, I have little direct connection to the appeals process and, as such, can’t speak from experience to know if the changes will address the problems. Having said that, a number of our members have expressed reticence in that the changes will fix issues without creating additional layers of bureaucracy. Ultimately, I believe the new components need to be in place for a longer period of time before anyone can evaluate their effectiveness.

 

Should DOSH approach enforcement with more of an eye toward achieving compliance, rather than looking for violations to cite? And if so, would such an approach work?

AgSafe approaches the whole concept of occupational safety and health from the perspective of prevention through education, training and resource dissemination. Our organization is designed to assist employers in being proactive, gaining a working knowledge of regulations, as well as best management practices, and determining how best to integrate effective solutions into their operations.

DOSH, on the other hand, is not as black and white. A very real need exists for their enforcement efforts and it is critical that energies be spent on finding the bad actors. That being the case, a better balance needs to be struck between issuing citations and getting ahead of issues by leveraging the expertise that exists in the consultation staff. In the end, I believe more workers can be protected if additional resources are focused on assisting employers in being compliant.

 

What should Cal/OSHA do to help small employers create safe workplaces and comply with Title 8 regulations?

Cal/OSHA’s ability to assist small employers goes back to the organization striking a better balance between enforcement and consultation activities. Small businesses, in particular, struggle with having the human and financial resources needed to develop robust employee safety and health programs. This segment of all industries needs targeted assistance with practical tools and real-life examples of best management practices that enable owners to come into compliance in a manner that doesn’t break the bank.

AgSafe has distinguished itself over its 20-year history as a nonprofit that provides training and resources developed by safety practitioners. It behooves Cal/OSHA to work collaboratively with organizations like ours across all industries and complement the work we do, rather than forging independent paths that reach the same destination. Strengthening partnerships with industry groups allows Cal/OSHA to leverage their precious resources and ensure that small businesses get access to the tangible tools they need to protect their workers.

 

What about safety do employers struggle with the most?
More often than not, we interact with employers struggling with “the how” of occupational safety and health. Regulations represent an idea, a goal for protecting workers from specific risks and hazards. Implementing those regulations is another matter entirely. Business owners are at a loss as to how to integrate the regulations’ intent in their day-to-day operations. Again, it is the rare employer who doesn’t want to ensure the safety of his or her workers. The sticking point becomes determining the most effective methods for ensuring safety, regulatory compliance and business solvency.


Are there reliable and knowledgeable training people available?

The agricultural industry is fortunate in that we have a diverse pool of knowledgeable, skilled occupational safety and health experts. These men and women understand the unique challenges our industry faces and, taking that emphasis one step further, have expertise in the very specific needs of different commodities. Training is a major component of AgSafe’s scope of work and, as a result, we have the opportunity to work with these dedicated safety professionals.

Having said that, as our industry continues to evolve with the integration of new technology and business practices and with those changes comes the need for additional safety professionals. Those in the industry now lament the fact that very little formal education exists specific to agricultural safety. Most higher education focuses on industrial hygiene and is housed within schools of public health. The opportunity exists for the development of undergraduate and graduate programs specific to agricultural occupational safety and health. Obviously, this is a major undertaking, but the need is there and will only continue to grow as our industry changes.

 

What kind of training is the most crucial for employers to provide?

Occupational safety and health training is Pandora’s box. The most logical way to approach it would be to turn to the foundation of a safety program – the Injury and Illness Prevention Program. Employers should first provide training in their IIPP and move outward from there, considering their regulatory education requirements, such as the training mandates in the heat illness prevention standard.

 

It is also important for employers to take a step back, assess the safety needs of the entire company and then determine how best to cross-train employees. For example, agricultural employers must have one First Aid/CPR certified employee for every 20 workers in one location during a shift. There is merit to ensuring you have two trained employees, considering the possibility that your First Aid/CPR certified worker might end up being the person having the health emergency. It is also important that all workers know basic First Aid/CPR protocol to provide assistance, direct emergency medical services and help maintain a calm environment when a problem arises. Taking this approach goes beyond the requirements in this specific regulation but ensures that a holistic plan is in place to maximize employee safety in a medical emergency.

 

What else do you read to get your occupational safety and health information?

I am involved in a number of organizations and coalitions that provide regular information impacting occupational safety and health. As a member of the National Safety Council, I get print and electronic news. I also sit on the NIOSH-NORA Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing Safety and Health Sector Council, where I get perspective on the issues being examined nationally in our industry. I receive statewide information from publications like “Cal/OSHA Reporter,” “Workers’ Comp Executive,” trade publications such as “Ag Alert,” put out by the California Farm Bureau Federation. I also stay informed via monthly newsletters from our industry partners, like the Growers & Shippers Association of the Central Coast, California Cotton and Ginners Association, and the Western Agricultural Processors Association. I also try to keep an ear to changes in the regulatory environment so I get updates from Capital Alert and the Maddy Institute as well.

 

How did you get started in safety? Was there any particular experience in your career that triggered your interest in safety? What’s interesting about it? What’s interesting about it now?

My connection to safety came from my passion for the agricultural industry. My career began on the legislative side of the safety equation as a Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellow. My tenure in the Capitol gave me the opportunity to work with the Assembly Committee on Agriculture, as well as a number of Assemblymembers with roots in this industry. I learned firsthand how safety regulations come into being and the complicated, intricate process that takes a concern for workers’ safety and health and manifests into new regulatory standards.

In 2009, I came to AgSafe and brought to my position a diverse professional background grounded in the agricultural and nonprofit industries. As the president and CEO, I blend my knowledge of the issues impacting agricultural safety and health with my expertise in nonprofit management to steward AgSafe’s mission. As a 501c3 nonprofit organization, AgSafe is dedicated to minimizing injuries, illness and fatalities in California’s agricultural industry. We do not engage in the political aspect of occupational safety and health, but rather focus our efforts on ensuring agricultural employers understand the regulations in place and how best to come into compliance.

While we do not participate in the political process, I have found my experience working in the state legislature to be invaluable in my capacity with AgSafe. It has given me insight into the motivators, barriers and frustrations expressed by all parties when negotiating the turbulent waters surrounding worker safety and health. I can say in earnest, too, that I much prefer being on this side of the equation! At AgSafe, there is an opportunity to provide direct support to employers and be actively involved in protecting workers. That brings a tangible satisfaction that is unique to the nonprofit sector and didn’t happen during my time in the Capitol.

 

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