Cal/OSHA has cited six employers $241,950 for workplace safety and health violations after reports that workers contracted Valley Fever on a solar project construction site in Monterey County. Valley Fever is caused by a microscopic fungus known as Coccidioides immitis, which lives in the top two to 12 inches of soil in many parts of the state. When soil is disturbed by digging, driving, or high winds, fungal spores can become airborne and may be inhaled by workers.
The employers at the California Flats Solar Project in Cholame Hills were cited for serious violations that included failure to control employee exposure to contaminated dust at the worksite, and failure to provide and ensure use of appropriate respiratory protection. Companies cited included general contractor McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. and subcontractors Papich Construction Co., Inc., Granite Construction Co., Inc., Sachs Electric Company, Dudek and Althouse and Meade, Inc.
Papich Construction, Inc., was cited in 2013 for some of the same violations.
“Employers who work in areas endemic to Valley Fever must take preventative measures to protect workers who may be exposed,” said Juliann Sum, Chief of Cal/OSHA.
Tips for reducing the risk of Valley Fever exposure include:
• Determine if a worksite is in an area where fungal spores are likely to be present.
• Adopt site plans and work practices that minimize the disturbance of soil and maximize ground cover.
• Use water, appropriate soil stabilizers, and/or re-vegetation to reduce airborne dust.
• Limit workers’ exposure to outdoor dust in disease-endemic areas by (1) providing air-conditioned cabs for vehicles that generate dust and making sure workers keep windows and vents closed, (2) suspending work during heavy winds, and (3) providing sleeping quarters, if applicable, away from sources of dust.
• When exposure to dust is unavoidable, provide approved respiratory protection to filter particles.
• Train supervisors and workers in how to recognize symptoms of Valley Fever and minimize exposure.