As part of this past weekend’s coordinated heat illness prevention inspections triggered by the area’s high temperatures, the Department of Industrial Relations’ Cal/OSHA took action against two farm labor contractors and shut them down for violations of the heat illness prevention regulations designed to safeguard employees, according to an agency press release. Jose Alfaro Labor Contractor and Estrada Farm Labor Services, both working in the Stockton/Farmington area, were shut down after investigators found that their provisions for shade and water were inadequate, and they had no heat illness prevention training and no emergency response procedures.
“Today we used the strongest tool available to us in protecting employees by shutting down these employers,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Len Welsh on Saturday. “The hot sun with high temperatures can be life-threatening and with temperatures over 100 degrees today, employers must take the required steps to protect their workers.”
Investigators encountered both work crews outside Farmington near the location of last year’s enforcement action that shut down Merced Farm Labor Contractor following the death of Maria Vasquez Jimenez. The Merced Farm Labor case was the first time Cal/OSHA used the Order to Prohibit Use (OPU) to shut down an employer in violation of the heat illness prevention standard. Three OPUs were issued in 2008 for similar violations.
With the actions taken against the two contractors, Cal/OSHA has now issued three OPUs this week to shut down farm labor contractors for violations of the heat illness prevention regulations. On Wednesday investigators shut down a work crew run by Hocier Rodriguez who were weeding okra under a sweltering 104° F sun in the Coachella Valley, with no shade, heat illness prevention plan or written emergency program.
“This year we have increased our effort to raise awareness of the importance of heat illness prevention,” said DIR Director John C. Duncan. “We have now trained over 4,000 agricultural employers across the state and have increased our enforcement even more then the unprecedented levels from last year.”
So far this year Cal/OSHA has conducted over 850 heat inspections and has issued more than 250 citations for violations of the heat illness prevention standards. In 2008, 2,584 inspections were conducted with 1,134 citations issued.
Heat illness prevention outreach to employees has also increased with the aid of community and employee advocate partners. Partnerships with Central Valley Catholic Diocese, the Department of Education’s Migrant Education Program, and California Rural Legal Assistance among others are in full swing this year.
Under Governor Schwarzenegger's leadership, California became the first state in the nation to develop a safety and health regulation addressing heat illness in 2005. Cal/OSHA issued permanent heat illness prevention regulations to protect outdoor workers in 2006.
For more information on heat illness prevention and training materials, visit the Cal/OSHA Web site atwww.dir.ca.gov/heatillness. Employees with work-related questions or complaints, including heat illness, may call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at 1-866-924-9757.