As the Harvest Gets Underway in Croatia, Officials Provide Safety Tips to Farmers

From broken bones to poisonous bites, there is plenty of inherent danger when harvesting olives. Eye injuries are among the most prevalent in Croatia’s olive groves.
Photo: Gregory Lee for Depositphotos
Oct. 26, 2021
Nedjeljko Jusup

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Olive grow­ers in Croatia have started har­vest­ing.

From the first of October to the end of November, the fruits from 5.5 mil­lion trees, which stretch for more than 500 kilo­me­ters along the Adriatic coast­line from Savudrija in Istria to Prevlaka in south­ern Dalmatia, should be picked.

Corneal eye injuries, with limb frac­tures, are among the most com­mon dur­ing the olive har­vest.- Vlade Glavota, oph­thal­mol­o­gist

Harvesting is a joy, but it also com­prises many dan­gers, espe­cially where the trees are tall, and the ter­rain is inac­ces­si­ble and rocky, as it is along the country’s coast and on its many islands.

See Also: Producers in Istria Brace for a Disappointing Harvest

Perhaps noth­ing encap­su­lated the per­ils of olive pick­ing more than a much-told anec­dote among the country’s farm­ers.

As a man was get­ting ready to go to har­vest olives, his wife asked him, when are you going to bring me lunch?” He replied: I do not know, but don’t hurry me. Maybe I’ll be hav­ing lunch at the hos­pi­tal.”

This darkly humor­ous anec­dote has been retold for years and is always rel­e­vant because it has a foothold in real­ity.

When the har­vest begins, espe­cially in October and even dur­ing November, the num­ber of patients in the sur­gi­cal wards usu­ally increases. They come with bro­ken limbs, most often arms and legs, but also other injuries.

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Photo: Jure Mišković/Cropix

According to local media, Blaženko Boban, the pre­fect of Split-Dalmatia County, fell from an olive tree and broke three ribs dur­ing the har­vest in his grove.

In a sep­a­rate inci­dent, a 68-year-old res­i­dent from the island of Hvar was bit­ten by a viper, the most ven­omous snake in Croatia, from a branch while pick­ing olives in the area of​Selce near Bogomolje.

Luckily, in October only very young snakes live in the olive trees. However, even these ones trans­mit a small dose of venom to their vic­tims.

Unfortunately, other cases with tragic con­se­quences have also been recorded.

On the island of Brač, a 74-year-old farmer from Nerežišće, died pick­ing olives in the groves between Donji Humac and Lećevica. At one point, he climbed a stone pile to more eas­ily reach fruit from the high­est branches, but sud­denly fell, break­ing his spine. He died on the spot.

Last year, fatal­i­ties dur­ing the har­vest were recorded in Split na Brdi, where an elderly man fell from an olive tree at the foot of a moun­tain.

See Also: Award-Winning Producers on Šolta Prepare for Modest Harvest

While plenty of sto­ries about unfor­tu­nate acci­dents of all kinds abound dur­ing the olive har­vest, the most com­mon injuries are to the eyes, accord­ing to the well-known oph­thal­mol­o­gist from Split, Vlade Glavota.

Corneal eye injuries, with limb frac­tures, are among the most com­mon dur­ing the olive har­vest,” he wrote in a blog post pub­lished on his practice’s web­site.

The well-known olive grower Stanko Sikirić, from Bibinje, also recently told the story about how he lost his eye to the Zadar-based jour­nal­ist, Velimir Brkić.

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Photo: Nedjeljko Jusup

Exactly 11 years ago in an olive har­vest, at the same loca­tion where he and three mem­bers of his fam­ily were har­vest­ing, an olive leaf stabbed him in the left eye. He will remem­ber this moment for a life­time because, after the sting, things got com­pli­cated and he lost his eye.

After a hun­dred trips to Zagreb for treat­ment and exam­i­na­tions, and two corneal trans­plants, unfor­tu­nately, I lost my eye,” said Stanko, an award-win­ning olive grower, who also once har­vested a 2.5‑kilogram red onion.

Eye injuries are actu­ally the most com­mon, although they are not often writ­ten about. The olive leaves are thick, com­pact and shaped like the head of a lance. The top of the leaf is pointed, but the olive grower usu­ally for­gets about this the moment he wants to reach the last fruit from the high­est branches.

Some of the pos­si­ble com­pli­ca­tions from being poked in the eye by the olive leaves are ker­ati­tis – inflam­ma­tion of the cornea – and corneal ulcer, which come as the result of a sec­ondary infec­tion at the site of an untreated corneal scratch.

Treatment for these con­di­tions is dif­fi­cult and long-term. Even after the treat­ment, corneal tis­sue scars often remain, lead­ing to a decrease in visual acu­ity.

See Also: Poland and Israel Win Fourth World Championship of Olive Picking in Postira, Croatia

The eyes are wide open while farm­ers har­vest, so injuries are com­mon, Glavota said. The most com­mon are patients with a scratched sur­face of the eye, the cornea.

It is accom­pa­nied by unpleas­ant pain, a feel­ing of itch­ing as if some­thing had fallen into the eye, increased tear­ing, inabil­ity to open the eye, swelling of the eye­lids and pho­to­pho­bia or intol­er­ance to strong light,” he said.

Treatment is suc­cess­ful and recov­ery is rel­a­tively quick but requires fre­quent check­ups.

Unfortunately, there are often cases when patients do not arrive on time and when things get com­pli­cated, which makes treat­ment more dif­fi­cult, slows down recov­ery and increases the risk of com­pli­ca­tions,” Glavota wrote in his blog.

In very severe cases, visual acu­ity from untreated ker­ati­tis and corneal ulcers can be so impaired that the only solu­tion to improve vision is a corneal trans­plant.

Due to improper over­growth and poor adhe­sion of the new corneal epithe­lium at the scratch site, so-called repet­i­tive or recur­rent ero­sions are fre­quent, which peri­od­i­cally cause dis­tur­bances sim­i­lar to those at the time of injury.

Glavota rec­om­mends that any­one par­tic­i­pat­ing in the olive har­vest wear glasses or gog­gles to pro­tect their eyes. Pickers should also wear caps, hats with a stiff brim, to pro­tect against the tips of the olive leaves.

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Photo: Nedjeljko Jusup

When har­vest­ing by hand, with­out shak­ers, it is also bet­ter to use alu­minum lad­ders instead of wooden ones, because the pos­si­bil­ity of falling from them is lower.

Marijan Tomac, an agron­o­mist, warns pick­ers to be care­ful when har­vest­ing the last fruit from the top of the tree. He rec­om­mends pick­ers do not crawl into the canopy or climb from one branch to the next.

The devil takes away the speed” is an apt Dalmatian say­ing for the injuries received while har­vest­ing olives, and a wise one for pro­duc­ers to fol­low.


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