California News

Regulations set up to protect outdoor workers in excessive heat

Friday, June 28, 2013

Scorching heat has not stopped the work at California's vast farmlands, but there is protection for farm workers and other others who work outside.

Despite searing temperatures, work must still get done through this heat wave, particularly in California's agriculture fields.

Armed with thermometers, Cal/OHSA says inspectors will be fanning farmlands making sure employers abide by the nation's first and toughest heat regulations to keep outdoor workers safe.

"If we find those employers, we can take, in addition to the issuance of citations, we can shut those job sites down. And we're prepared to do that," said Bill Krycia, a regional Cal/OSHA manager.

In regulations implemented by then-Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005 after he became he became aware of the heat fatality rate for outdoor workers, employers must provide water and breaks. Shade must be available when an employee asks for it, and someone must be trained to look for the signs of heat stress.

Cal/OSHA has done an extensive education campaign to make sure companies know the law.

"Once you start feeling these symptoms, it can cascade rapidly into heat stroke and death," said Krycia.

"The laws on the books are not the laws in the fields," says Marc Grossman, a spokesman for the United Farm Workers of America.

The UFW says better enforcement of the heat regulations is needed.

"In the summer of 2011, the UFW filed 75 complaints on behalf of farm workers who were denied shade. Filed those complaints with Cal/OSHA, and in only three cases did Cal/OSHA issue citations," said Grossman.

Even with the heat regulations in place for eight years, UFW says at least two dozen farm workers have died from the heat.

Admittedly, Cal/OSHA says that like other state agencies, it's had resource challenges, but insists its enforcers are very aggressive.

California's law has actually been updated to include other professions in the heat regulations, including construction and landscaping.

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