Cal/OSHA, the Nisei Farmers League and a coalition of agricultural organizations, representing 90 percent of the industry, have partnered together to sponsor this year’s “Heat Illness Prevention in Agriculture” training events with the official launch held on Tuesday, March 30 in Fresno, according to a press release. The event trained growers, Farm Labor Contractors and supervisors about their responsibilities under California’s Heat Illness Prevention Standard and the consequences of not protecting outdoor workers from the heat.

The California Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR), Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) first partnered with the state’s largest agricultural organizations in 2008 to conduct the outreach.

“California is the only state in the nation to have such an extensive partnership with agricultural organizations to provide important heat safety training for ag workers and employers.” said DIR Director John C. Duncan. “This is another example of how California leads the way in reaching out to industries and workers to ensure everyone is safe from the hazards of heat exposure on the job.”

Hundreds of people attended the kick-off training sessions, provided in English and Spanish. They learned about the four elements of the state’s heat stress program: providing and encouraging the drinking of plenty of cool water, ready access to shade, full and complete training and written procedures spelling out the essentials.

“The goal of this training is to help all employers understand the heat illness prevention regulation and the need for training their workers about heat stress and its dangers,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Len Welsh. “We also provide training directly to employees to explain to them their rights to water, rest and shade; because as summer begins both workers and employers must be vigilant in order to prevent heat stress injuries and illnesses.”

Under the leadership of Governor Schwarzenegger, in 2005 California became a national leader as the first state to develop a safety and health regulation to protect workers from heat illness. Since then, Cal/OSHA has educated workers and employers in outdoor industries about the regulation’s requirements, the risks of working in the heat and ways to stay safe. Last year nearly 2,000 employers, supervisors and safety managers received heat illness prevention training during the sessions hosted by the coalition with estimates of nearly 400,000 agricultural workers positively impacted. The number of heat fatalities decreased from six in 2008, to one in 2009 and has been in an overall downward trend since the 12 heat related fatalities in the workplace in 2005.

“We are seeing positive results from the training with a reduction of violations for specific requirements of the standard,” added Welsh. “Violations have declined under the section requiring training for employees and supervisors as well as for having shade structures up.”

Cal/OSHA has increased enforcement and outreach in 2009 and is looking to maintain this level of enforcement this year. The number of enforcement actions in 2009 increased by 25 percent over 2008 while outreach in 2009 increased by 55 percent over 2008.

Cal/OSHA provides more heat safety information for workers and employers as well as a complete list of training seminars on its Web site at Employees with work-related questions or complaints can also call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at 1-866-924-9757.