Cal-OSHA cautions outdoor California workers about heat exposure

The month of July may mean triple digit temperatures for many parts of California. For farm workers and other employees who work outdoors, that level of extreme heat may pose a safety risk.

In fact, officials from California's Occupational Safety and Health Administration have already been called upon to investigate the deaths of two California farmworkers. Both workers were in their thirties, but the intense heat can take a toll even on young workers.

Under current state regulations, employers must ensure that workers have access to water and shade. Cal-OSHA officials point to improved compliance among many farm mangers. According to recent surveys, around 80 percent of farms may be following that guideline, up from a mere 30 percent in 2005.

However, some workers' compensation advocates believe that more specific precautions are needed. At a recent Cal-OSHA meeting that was open to the public, a proposal was made to make water available to workers at distances under 20 feet, and shade within 200 feet of workers.

Some farming industry leaders are not in favor of the proposal, pointing out that many outdoor farms in California are massive. As a result, positioning water stations every 20 feet from constantly shifting worker locations might not be feasible. At least one industry commentator also suggested that the farmworker deaths might be attributable to pre-existing health conditions, such as coronary disease.

Yet Cal-OSHA's investigation of one of the recent farmworker fatalities resulted in ordering the farm to cease its outdoor operations. This type of order, call and Order Prohibiting Use, is only the third issued this summer. In this case, however, the farm may not have been compliant with existing shade requirements.

Source:, "Possible heat deaths keep Cal-OSHA, farmers on toes," July 12, 2013

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