Amputations and deaths: Coffee harvesting machine causes a wave of accidents in Brazil

Amputations and deaths: Coffee harvesting machine causes a wave of accidents in Brazil

Use of harvesters On Connellon coffee farms, a type of bean used to make instant coffee has been responsible for at least nine amputations of legs, arms and fingers, as well as two deaths in Espiritu Santo in the past two years alone. These incidents have caught the attention of healthcare professionals in the northern region of the state.

The machine was originally designed to harvest beans and was later adapted by manufacturers for use in coffee fields. Until 2022, equipment was sold without safety features such as a lock button. Its mission is to collect branches laden with beans deposited on the fabrics spread among the coffee plants.

For authorities monitoring accidents, the use of these machines in coffee cultivation poses additional risks because the branches and coffee beans are heavier than the materials collected by the machines during the bean harvest. “Often, the worker has to pull the fabric to roll it onto the (harvester) drum, and that is one of the problems,” explains prosecutor Fernanda Barreto Naves from the Labor Prosecutor’s Office (MPT) in São Mateus (Spain).

One of the incidents occurred with 42-year-old farmer Rogeria Silveira, who had part of her arm amputated on her farm in Jaguar (Spain). She was adjusting the tarp on the roller when the machine snapped one of her fingers. “As soon as the fire caught fire, I panicked and released the control (responsible for controlling the movement of the cylinder). “When I released it, the cylinder flipped over and immediately tore off the arm,” recounts Rogeria. See more cases here.

Coffee farmer Rogeria Silveira lost her hand in an accident with a harvester in May 2022 (Photo: Lela Beltrão/Repórter Brasil)

The use of machinery reduced the reliance on manual labor in harvesting connelon. A producer he visited Brazil correspondent In Villa Valerio (Spain) he revealed that he reduced costs with employees during harvesting after acquiring two harvesters. Last year, the number of temporary workers on his farm dropped from 120 to 40 people.

Inspectors demand modifications to machines

With a series of incidents, representatives of the Labor Prosecutor’s Office (MPT), producers and equipment manufacturers reached a voluntary agreement in September 2022 to develop and install “safety kits” on machines. However, farm inspections during the following harvest season showed low compliance with the required amendments.

In 2023, members of the Reference Center for Workers’ Health (Cerest), an agency linked to the Unified Health System (SUS), visited 33 properties in Espirito Santo with irregularities in coffee harvesting machines identified in the previous year. Of this total, only 25% have installed full protection components. “Practically, no one has made the necessary adjustments,” says Fernando Roberto da Silva, an agricultural engineer at Cereste.

Inspection of harvesters by members of the Worker Health Reference Center (Cerest), an agency linked to the SUS (Photo: Lela Beltrão/Repórter Brasil)

In the last harvest season, Ministry of Labor inspectors reportedly closed eight coffee harvesting machines on six farms, according to information obtained by the site. Brazil correspondent Through the Access to Information (LAI) Act. They are all from the manufacturer Miac. Industrias Colombo, the group that owns MIAC, did not respond to questions sent by the report.

In October 2023, the MPT of São Mateus (Spain) issued a recommendation to the 11 unions of rural employers in northern Espírito Santo and to the Federation of Agriculture of the State of Espírito Santo (FAES), asking them to advise coffee farmers on the need to install “safety kits”. “So far, we have received only three responses,” explains plaintiff Poliana de Fátima França, also from the MPT in São Mateus.

Required kits include installation of a panic button to instantly lock equipment in the event of an emergency, among other improvements. In addition, manufacturers were required to make modifications to the design of the combines so that they would leave the factory with the new modifications.

“We requested that this new machinery adaptation project also be used on used machinery,” explains Rafael Rosa, auditor of the Ministry of Labor. “The manufacturer has to offer that possibility, after all, they are the ones who made the machine.”

The cost of these modifications is approximately R$ 10,000. Prices for new machines range from R$245,000 to R$365,000, depending on the power of the machine.

From the farms to your home

The northern region of Espiritu Santo is consolidating itself as a connellon coffee processing center for the production of instant and capsule coffee. In December, Singapore’s Olam Group opened a soluble coffee processing unit in Linhares (ES) after investing about R$1 billion.

The beans produced by Rogéria are sold to the Agrária dos Cafeicultores de São Gabriel (Cooabriel), the largest coffee cooperative in the country, with 7,200 cooperative producers. Cooabriel is also the destination for coffee produced in Sítio Santa Luzia in Nova Venécia (ES), where a 24-year-old died after being pulled into a coffee harvester. Cupril did not respond to questions sent by the report.

Espirito Santo was responsible for 12 of the 18 million bags harvested in Brazil in 2022, according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). The state represents approximately 20% of the global production of this type of bean.

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