California Farm Labor Contractor Barred for Heat Violations

California's Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) has issued an administrative order prohibiting Merced Farm Labor Contractor from operating in the fields, citing the company's failure to comply with heat illness regulations as a threat to workers' safety.

"With temperatures rising we are taking this unusual step as a way to ensure that workers employed by this company are not put at risk,’" said DIR Director John Duncan. "This order will be in force until the company is in full compliance with California heat illness prevention regulations."

Atwater-based Merced Farm Labor was the employer of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old farmworker who died last month of suspected heat-related causes after working nine hours in high heat in a vineyard without water or shade. Under California law, outdoor employers are required to train supervisors and employees about the symptoms of heat illness, have an emergency medical assistance plan and provide shade and water to workers.

On June 4, DIR's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) moved to revoke Merced Farm Labor's license for failing to disclose that it was cited for similar Cal/OSHA violations in 2006, and for failing to follow heat illness regulations as required under its license.

DIR said that in the course of the ongoing investigation of the Jimenez case, investigators have uncovered evidence that leads them to suspect that the company may be continuing to hire and place workers in unsafe and unhealthful working conditions, and as a result issued the Order to Prohibit Use as a precaution.

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