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Heat illnesses hard on outdoor workers

June 19, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Health warnings have been issued for the heat for those people who have to work outside in this blistering heat. So what is Cal OSHA trying to do to prevent heat illnesses on the job?Nobody feels the soaring temperatures more than those who work outside. John Foston knows he has to be careful.

"You could pass out here. The heat can get intense, you know," said Foston.

Since late summer of 2005, the state of California has required companies to take precautions for their outdoor employees. Cal OSHA is now holding seminars throughout the state reminding employers of the law.

For example:

  • Employers must provide water at the site, breaks and shaded areas for those rest periods
  • All workers must also be trained on how to spot the symptoms of heat-related illnesses

"This is something real. This exists at every job outdoors in the summertime in this state, sometimes year-round depending where you're at," said Dave Strickler from Cal OHSA. "You have to be planning and preparing your workers to be able to recognize when they may be in danger."

Governor Schwarzenegger issued an emergency order implementing the changes soon after the big 2005 heat wave. Twelve outdoor workers in all died that year. The following year, eight died. Last year, it was down to one.

But California has already equaled that total this year, which is a sobering reminder that not all companies are following the law.

Seventeen-year-old Maria Isabel Jimenez Vasquez died of heat stroke last month after collapsing in a Central Valley vineyard. She was pregnant. Witnesses told state investigators she worked more than nine hours without shade and was too intimidated to take sufficient water breaks.

The girl's family is suing her employer, Merced Farm Labor, to protect more outdoor workers.

"What the family suffered, what we saw, we don't want them to have fear of speaking out," said Doroteo Jimenez, the victim's uncle.

State labor officials shut down Merced Farm Labor, accusing it of failing to train employees to cope with the heat.

Meanwhile, another death in Kern County at an oil drilling company is being investigated by the state as heat-related.

Click here for information on what steps employers are required to take, as well as how to find a seminar near you

 

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