Window Rock — Officials from Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers and Navajo Agricultural Product Industry reported to the Resources and Development Committee Tuesday about an October accident that took a worker's life and a report on working conditions.
For more than 20 years, Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers has been leasing land from NAPI to grow pumpkins to sell to non-profit organizations for fundraising projects.
The committee requested the report from both entities to hear about the Oct. 3 accident at the pumpkin farm which claimed the life of field worker Fabian Pinto.
According to a report submitted to the committee by Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers, Pinto was hit by a pickup truck as it was delivering drinking water to employees.
Pinto was transported to San Juan Regional Medical Center, where he later died from his injuries.
Pumpkin Patch Fundraiser owner and operator Richard Hamby said he could not comment further about the accident because it is still under investigation.
"I don't know if any of you have been in charge of an organization where an employee has died, it's not something I will reveal," Hamby said.
The report stated that financial and emotional assistance was provided to Fabian's family and traditional ceremonies were conducted in the field.
Employees were informed about the accident and a grief counselor was brought to the farm.
According to the report, employees were allowed to leave the farm if they wanted and of the 60 employees who elected to leave, 20 returned.
In September 2012, the Office of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Northern Navajo Medical Center issued a report to Hamby about the working and living conditions at the Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers dormitory.
The office became interested in the issue after several pumpkin farm workers complained of upper respiratory infections at the medical center.
An epidemiologic response team was organized and completed a site visit to determine if there was an environmental cause for the upper respiratory complaints.
The team visited two dormitories, a shower area, onsite portable toilets and hand-washing stations, a kitchen, a dining tent, and fields.
The findings showed that hand-washing stations did not have hand soap or paper towels, more ventilation is needed in the dormitories, bird feces was found on pipes above shower stalls, and the food service was not in compliance with tribal codes.
Patrick Sandoval, a consultant working with Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers, said the problems and issues have been fixed either on the day of the visit or within the year.
He said improvements include a new mobile kitchen and construction of a 5,000-square-foot dining hall. Buildings are now cleaned daily and garbage removed daily, he said. Adequate ventilation has been installed, he said, and showers are sanitized daily.
However, in October, the Office of Environmental Health and Engineering recommend the sanitation permit for the area housing the Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers labor camp be denied.
When committee chairwoman Katherine Benally asked about the sanitation permit being denied, Sandoval said the company was never informed that a permit was needed but it is now in the process of securing one.
Committee member Roscoe Smith asked if the company has regulations in place to address sanitation issues.
Sandoval said the company follows regulations and safety standards established by NAPI and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
He also invited committee members and the media to visit the facility.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.