Health & Safety, Work Hazards, Working Conditions

Calif. Investigates 6 Possible Heat-Related Deaths

From PE.com, The Press-Enterprise, Gosia Wozniacka, The Associated Press, 23 Jul 2011.

Fresno, CA — California is investigating six possible heat-related deaths, including two cases of farmworkers who collapsed while harvesting crops, officials said Thursday.

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal-OSHA, is reviewing whether a 47-year-old worker in Blythe died because he was operating a tractor to harvest cantaloupes in 102-degree heat on July 7, spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said. The agency is also investigating the April death of a 56-year-old farmworker who was breaking corn in 84-degree heat in Imperial County.

Other cases under investigation involve a drilling crew floorman, a police officer, a temporary laborer and a grading foreman. All died in June.

In all six cases, coroners have not confirmed the cause of death.

As temperatures climb into triple digits, Cal-OSHA enforcement actions continue to uncover pockets of violations of the heat standard across the state, Monterroza said. Of 869 inspections conducted this year, 148 resulted in heat violation citations. That number may be higher, she said, because many cases are open investigations.

On June 22, violations resulted in the shutdown of a farmer’s operations for failing to protect workers in high heat.

Ho Ik Chang, the owner of T Y Farms in Canoga Park, failed to provide shade and other measures for workers in a chile pepper field who toiled in temperatures that registered 105 degrees before noon, Monterroza said. The workers, she said, did not know who they worked for, had no means of communicating with their supervisor in case of an emergency and lacked heat illness prevention training.

The farm was reinstated on July 11, after the owner demonstrated he was in compliance with the heat illness prevention rules.

California introduced the first heat regulations in the nation in 2005 to protect the state’s 450,000 seasonal farm workers.

Since 2005, 13 farmworkers have died of heat stroke, including two last year.

The law was strengthened last year to include a high heat provision that must be implemented by five industries when temperatures reach 95 degrees. These procedures include observing employees, closely supervising new employees, and reminding all employees throughout the shift to drink water. The specified industries include agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction and transportation or delivery of agricultural products, construction material or other heavy materials.

Source: PE.com, The Press-Enterprise, “Calif. Investigates 6 Possible Heat-Related Deaths” by Gosia Wozniacka, The Associated Press, 23 Jul 2011.

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