FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 5, 2012
Cal/OSHA investigating two suspected heat illness fatalities
Fresno —The California Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) Chief Ellen Widess announced today that Cal/OSHA is actively investigating two suspected heat related deaths in construction and agriculture in the 2012 summer heat season. Widess reminds all employers to be vigilant to protect outdoor workers from the hazards of heat this summer by taking the basic steps of providing water, shade, rest, training, and emergency procedures.
“While our field inspections reveal that many employers are complying with California’s first in the nation heat standard, we are deeply concerned that some employers are still not providing the basic protections to their workers,” said DIR Director Christine Baker. “We will use all our resources and expand partnerships with labor and employers to protect workers in all outdoor occupations this summer.”
The most recent suspected heat related death occurred Friday afternoon and involved a 56 year old farmworker who collapsed in Coalinga while pruning fruit trees in high heat conditions. The other case under investigation involves an 18 year old masonry worker in a small construction business in Friant who on May 9 fell unconscious as the crew was cleaning up for the day and died the following day.
“Vigorous training, outreach and enforcement efforts have made a big difference in compliance among many of these employers,” noted Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “Sadly, we are now investigating two suspected heat related deaths this season.”
“We immediately responded in each case to determine what happened and whether there were violations of the heat standard,” continued Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “We will be out there in full force throughout the state all summer—through scheduled inspections and local “heat wave” inspections when temperatures soar-- to ensure compliance with the heat standard and to save workers’ lives.
This spring, Cal/OSHA launched an extensive campaign to ensure that all outdoor workers are protected from heat illness. The campaign combines outreach and education with strong enforcement to ensure that all employers with outdoor workers know and comply with the Heat Standard. The target industries are agriculture, construction, and landscaping, with additional focus on other industries such as oil and gas and utilities.
Cal/OSHA has partnered with agricultural and construction industry groups, insurance carriers and others again this year in order to provide training and outreach to employers, supervisors and work crews on heat illness prevention. To date over 60 free sessions have been held this year.
Community outreach also continues in order to meet the challenge of reaching the state’s most vulnerable workers who speak Spanish, Hmong, Punjabi, Mixteco, Triqui and other indigenous languages. The outreach is taking place in partnership with many organizations including the University of California labor programs in Davis, Berkeley and Los Angeles as well as Mexican Consulates, churches and other community-based groups across the state.
California’s heat illness prevention standard-- the first in the nation-- was strengthened in 2010 to include a high heat provision that must be implemented by five industries when temperatures reach 95 degrees. These procedures include closely observing employees for signs and symptoms of heat illness, closely supervising new employees, effective communication and reminding all employees throughout the shift to drink plenty of water. The specified industries include agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction and transportation or delivery of agricultural products, construction material or other heavy materials.
Employers and employees can learn more about Cal/OSHA regulations and how to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses by checking the DIR website. For more information on Cal/OSHA’s heat illness prevention requirements and training materials, please visit Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness web page, or the “Water Rest Shade” campaign site at www.99calor.org/campaign.
Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Unit (800) 963-9424) provides free information and training on occupational safety and health hazards and ways to protect workers from heat illness, confined space hazards and other workplace hazards. Consultation Services’ offices throughout the state are posted on Cal/OSHA’s website.
Employees with work-related questions or complaints, including heat illness, may call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at (866) 924-9757.
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