Protecting Workers from Heat Stress a Priority during Heat Wave

July 9, 2008 9:05:15 PM PDT
Those who work outdoors have no choice but to deal with the heat on the job. Steps are being taken to help protect them although another tragedy has occurred in the fields.64-year old Jose Hernandez collapsed on June 20th while picking squash. It happened in Santa Maria on a day when the mercury hit 110-degrees.

The effects of the intense sun, heat stroke, is what the UFW says led to the death of Jose Hernandez.

State rules demand fieldworkers have access to shade and water. Hernandez' death follows the death of a pregnant teenage farm worker near Stockton in May.

CAL-OSHA Chief Len Welsh said "These cases are under investigation. I can't go into detail about them but people do die from heat. We are going to see heat deaths this summer."

To avoid further problems, state-wide training on heat stress prevention will be made available for farm labor contractors like George Rodriguez. Rodriguez said "Right now the temperatures really scorching. We're trying to get them down to six hours. We're only working from 6 - 1230. Send them home. We're not gonna deal with the heat."

The Fresno County Farm Bureau will host the first training session on Thursday. State inspectors have been making random checks in fields. Welsh said "Two of the most obvious things are shade and water and you can see the shade. Either the shade is up or it's not so that's one thing we spot right away. "

If needed, portable shade must be available for workers. For those who work outside all day, doctors say you need to drink plenty of water, stay away from caffeinated drinks and don't wait until you're thirsty.

Dr. Ken Bird, Fresno County's Deputy Health Officer, said "The things they need to watch for the early signs of heat stress such as nausea, excessive weakness, excessive sweating, maybe even light-headedness."

City crew supervisors have been told safety is the priority during this heat wave.

Councilman Blong Xiong said "If it's getting to a situation where its starting to get dangerous and the heat is overwhelming then they need to be able take back, calm down and say wait the heat gets a little bit less."

Doctors also say because of the heat and poor air quality, outdoor projects should be postponed for a few days.


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