In her article on heat exposure among California agriculture workers published in the High County News, Ruxandra Guidi presents the challenges faced by those on the ground who help provide the country with a majority of its fruits and nuts and about one-third of its vegetables:
“The impacts of climate change are being felt not just in the quality of the harvest, but in the economy and the daily lives of the people who labor in the fields. It used to be that exposure to pesticides was the top health concern for farmworkers; today, heat exposure is.
For the people who pick the country’s fruits and vegetables — an estimated 800,000 during peak season, about half of them in California alone — higher temperatures mean uncomfortable working conditions, a risk of serious illness and even the possibility of death. In California, there are already strict laws and regulations on the books to prevent some of the worst consequences. But as the future keeps warming, those may not be enough.”
Findings and Factors
Guidi reveals that state labor inspectors in California found that over half of the farms they audited didn’t follow the rules regarding heat exposure and that the past 10 years have seen at least two dozen farmworker deaths from heat-related causes.
California and Washington are ahead of both the federal government and most other states when it comes to labor protections. But Guidi shows that in terms of protecting agricultural workers from heat-related illness while keeping up those states’ nearly unsustainable production rates, the most obvious factor is climate change. Heat waves are longer, more intense and more frequent than they were a decade or two ago, and powerful powerful drought-to-flood swings that cause heavy rains put a serious damper on yields.
What Is Being Done
Guidi reports how organizations like California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) now oversee ongoing and extensive heat-protection training of farmers in the Central Valley. She also describes the intensive info-gathering methods used in initiatives California Heat Illness Prevention Study (CHIPS) to get a better handle on what can be done about the problem.
The article closes by noting that recent legal settlements between Cal/OSHA and the United Farm Workers Union have led to stronger protections around the availability of water, shade and longer, more frequent breaks for workers. Additionally, piece-rate employees have also started being paid for their rest breaks instead of being penalized for taking them.
Did It Happen to You?
Accident Recovery Legal Center supports a safe environment for all workers in all industries. If you or someone you love has recently received medical care (hospital services, doctor visits, medicine, medical equipment, lab tests, etc.) as a result of overexposure to the elements, we are here to help you recover the benefits owed by your employer. Call us today at 1-888-931-WORK (9675) to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.