FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
IR #2008-52
July 23, 2008

CONTACT:
Dean Fryer
Erika Monterroza
(415) 703-5050
Internet: www.dir.ca.gov


Cal/OSHA Cites and Fines Farm Labor Contractor in Death of 17-Year-Old Farmworker

Atwater, CA— The Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety & Health (DIR/Cal/OSHA) today issued six citations, three of which are serious and willful, and assessed fines of $262,700 against Merced Farm Labor Contractor, the Atwater-based employer of a 17-year-old farmworker who died of heat stroke in May. The fines are the largest assessed to an agricultural firm since the permanent heat illness prevention regulations were implemented in 2006.

An investigation of Merced Farm Labor Contractor was initiated following the death of Maria Vasquez Jimenez who had been working nine hours in a Lodi vineyard with little water and no shade. She died two days after collapsing in the field. Among its numerous violations, company representatives failed to report the potential heat illness and death to Cal/OSHA, as required by law.

“This company willfully violated the key provisions of the heat illness prevention regulations with tragic consequences,” said DIR Director John C. Duncan. “All California employers are required to provide a safe and healthful workplace and this company willfully failed to do so despite knowing the requirements contained in the heat illness regulations and continued to do so even after this terrible death.”

The three serious and willful citations issued were for failure to provide heat illness prevention training to employees and supervisors although the company was aware of the requirement to do so, and failure to provide prompt medical attention in case of serious injuries when working in remote locations. Fines of $70,000 were assessed for each violation. In the Vasquez Jimenez case, investigators found that there were no emergency procedures in place.

In addition to the three serious, willful citations issued today, two serious citations were issued for failing to provide water in a readily accessible location and not permitting access to the water at all times, and failing to provide access to a shaded area for recovery periods of no less than five minutes. Fines of $22,500 were assessed for each violation.

One general citation with three violations was also issued for failing to train new employees about the requirements of the injury and illness prevention program, and failing to include written procedures for complying with heat illness prevention requirements. Fines of $1,350 each were assessed. One regulatory citation was also issued for failure to report a potential heat illness to Cal/OSHA with an assessed fine of $5,000.

Employers may be issued serious and willful citations when evidence shows they know what regulations require, have been cited for the same violations in the past, intend to engage in conduct they know is in violation of the law, and are aware that a workplace hazard exists.

Under California law, employers are required to have a written heat illness prevention program, train all employees and supervisors about the dangers of heat illness, provide adequate and accessible shade and enough cool, accessible water for each employee to drink at least four cups per hour.

In other actions taken against the company, on June 4, the DIR’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) moved to revoke Merced Farm Labor’s license for failing to disclose that it was cited for similar Cal/OSHA violations in 2006, and for failing to follow heat illness regulations as required under its license. Two stop-work orders were also issued to the company when investigators found workers were continuing to be exposed to workplace hazards. Those stop-work orders are still in effect.

DIR was established to improve working conditions for California's wage earners, and to advance opportunities for profitable employment in California. For more information about DIR, visit the Web site at www.dir.ca.gov. Employees who have work-related questions or complaints can call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at 1-866-924-9757.

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