On July 3, 2017, 49-year-old Gerardo Balbuena, a Hadley Date Gardens Inc. worker, was spraying water on date palm fruit at the company’s Thermal, Calif. orchard.
Around 9 a.m., Balbuena accidentally sprayed water on a beehive, which disturbed the nest and caused bees to swarm, repeatedly stinging him. More than 30 bees were involved in the attack, which sent him into anaphylactic shock and killed him, according to eyewitness accounts told to the Los Angeles Times.
A subsequent investigation from state-run Cal/OSHA discovered numerous violations that led to Balbuena’s death.
“Recognized workplace hazards for tree workers include bee and other harmful insect exposure,” said Juliann Sum, Cal/OSHA chief, in a statement. “Employers must identify and evaluate workplace hazards, and provide appropriate personal protective equipment and effective training to their workers.”
Cal/OSHA issued four citations to Hadley Date Gardens Inc., two of which were for serious workplace safety and health violations.
The citations detailed how the company failed to evaluate the worksite for hazardous bee and insect exposure. Hadley failed to establish appropriate safety protocols, which include providing appropriate personal protective equipment and training that could have prevented this incident, according to the agency.
As a result of the fatality, the company faces $41,310 in penalties for the violations.
Cal/OSHA specifically cites bee attacks and animal attacks as one of the hazards tree trimmers in the state could face while working.
In its Tree Work Safety guidelines, the agency lists how state employers can keep workers safe on the job site. Cal/OSHA suggests employers should:
- Develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive health and safety program that includes written safety rules and safe work procedures for all tasks performed.
- Ensure that qualified tree workers direct tree trimming/removal/repair operations, and immediately correct any hazards or improper work practices identified.
- Create a company safety culture that encourages workers to establish safe habits, emphasizing the importance of safety and not taking risks or shortcuts.
- Provide safety training to workers to improve their knowledge and awareness of workplace hazards to help them perform their work more efficiently and safely.
After the attack, Albert P. Keck, president of Hadley Date Gardens, released the following statement to the media:
"The owners and employees at Hadley Date Gardens are devastated by the tragic death and loss of our dear co-worker and friend, Gerardo Balbuena...and are still in shock trying to cope with this. He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather as well as a devoted, talented, and hardworking employee who dedicated 27 years of service to our company. Words cannot adequately express our sorrow and grief, but first and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the Balbuena family who we will support and remain in close touch with through this tragedy."
Balbuena is survived by his wife, five children and grandchildren.