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Against the Short-Handled Hoe

The short-handled hoe is 12 to 18 inches of misery for farmworkers, forcing them to weed and thin crops while walking badly stooped. Its use causes crippling back pains. Its use has also been illegal since a 1975 California Supreme Court decision. But today the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board will consider changing its rules to allow use of the hoe for five minutes each hour.

The move clearly would violate the court’s finding in the suit brought by Sebastian Carmona and other farmworkers from the Salinas Valley against what was then known as the state Division of Industrial Safety. The division had ruled that injuries occurred only because of the way the hoe was used. The court found that the tool was made in such a way that it had to be used in a harmful fashion, and so it was just as unsafe as if the tool itself were defective. As a result of that decision, the division then ruled that practical substitutes existed and so the hoe was banned.

Banning means banning, 60 minutes of the hour, not just 55. Allowing its use in this limited fashion will make enforcement, such as it is, a nightmare. The short-handled hoe and the injuries it causes have not changed. Nor should the law.


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