Heat is a Safety Hazard for Outdoor Workers

Heat is a Safety Hazard for Outdoor Workers

Those who work outdoors under the sun feel the potentially dangerous effects of the heat. Last year in California, there were four confirmed heat-related deaths of people while on the job and 54 confirmed heat-related illnesses.
Those who work outdoors under the sun feel the potentially dangerous effects of the heat. 

Last year in California, there were four confirmed heat-related deaths of people while on the job and 54 confirmed heat-related illnesses, according to Greg Siggins, communications director with the California Department of Industrial Relations. 

Out on a construction site in central Fresno, a crew of construction workers labor under the sun for hours with temperatures nearly reaching the triple digits.

"Sweating and sweating. Drinking water and go back to the work and keep working and come back and keep drinking water," Pedro Cervantes says through broken English. The construction worker describes his work routine. 

Cervantes is the crew leader, and he says he's in charge of making sure that the crew takes breaks in the shade and drinks plenty of water. 

For all outdoor workers, California's heat safety regulations require that employers provide enough fresh, cool drinking water and cups throughout the day.

It's also requires that employers have shaded areas up and ready for employees to take breaks for at least five minutes at a time as soon as temperatures reach 85 degrees. If the temperature is less, umbrellas/tents/tarps need to be on-site if a worker requests a shaded area.

The state's heat safety standard also requires that employees provide training to all employees on how to prevent heat illness. 

These regulations apply to all outdoor workers, including farm workers. 

Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, says continued education and training is key for keeping workers safe. 

"We've got to be more alert, we've got to be watching. And we depend upon our farmworkers. If they're sick, that is not good for them, and it's not good for us," Cunha says. 

The California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) office in Fresno helps workers know their rights.

Norma Ventura, a community worker with the CRLA, says staff members visit farms a few times a month to pass out informational pamphlets in English and Spanish and to observe the sites. 

As a nonprofit organization, they cannot issue citations, but they do refer complaints to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

"In the summer--really often," Ventura says, referring to the amount of complaints they receive from farmworkers about their work conditions. "Probably every other week, if not, at least once a week."

Ventura says many workers avoid reporting work environments that aren't in compliance with the state's heat safety standard because they may fear retaliation from their employers. But she says there are laws to protect employees from retaliation.

For information on California's heat safety requirements or to make a work place complaint, which can be made anonymously, call the California Department of Industrial Relation's worker hotline at 1-866-924-9757.
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