Cal/OSHA Cites Two Contractors Following Heat-Related Fatality

“These incidents, including a tragic death, highlight the need for employers at outdoor worksites to be diligent and monitor their workers for signs of heat illness,” said California Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker.

Cal/OSHA has issued citations to two California farm labor contractors following investigations into the heat illness of two employees, one of which resulted in the state’s first confirmed heat-related death of 2011.

Cal/OSHA issued citations to C. Clunn Consulting of Holtville and AgPrime Corp. of Los Banos, for violations of California’s heat illness prevention standard.

“These incidents, including a tragic death, highlight the need for employers at outdoor worksites to be diligent and monitor their workers for signs of heat illness,” said California Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker. “We have conducted an extensive outreach and education campaign on heat illness prevention regulations over the last three years, which has included training for employers and supervisors. Employers should be aware of their responsibility.”

In the first case, a C. Clunn Consulting employee collapsed in a cantaloupe field in Blythe, Calif., on July 7, 2011, and later died after being airlifted to a hospital in Phoenix. Vasquez had been packaging cantaloupes, loading 40-pound boxes on a trailer and driving a tractor in 102-degree heat prior to his death. High humidity added greater risk to the worker.

The investigation revealed that C. Clunn Consulting allegedly did not provide employees or supervisors required training on how to identify and treat symptoms of heat illness. C. Clunn also failed to enforce its own heat illness prevention program which included having emergency medical procedures in place to safeguard employees in case of severe heat illness.

Citations issued to C. Clunn Consulting include willful, serious, and general violations with a total penalty of $74,125.

In the second case, a 16-year-old farm worker employed by AgPrime Corp. was picking bell peppers with his guardians in a field southwest of Bakersfield, Calif., on July 6, 2011, when he became ill with heat illness symptoms. The temperature in the field had reached 105 degrees that evening when the crew began work. The supervisor noted the worker’s illness, but did not seek medical assistance. The young farm worker later recovered from his illness.

Cal/OSHA’s investigation found that AgPrime did not provide adequate water, shade, rest breaks, or first aid kits at the worksite and did not train new employees or supervisors as required to identify and treat the symptoms of heat illness. Also, Ag Prime had no procedures to protect employees working in high-heat conditions or summon emergency medical help if needed.

Citations issued to AgPrime Corp include six serious and one general violation with a total penalty of $61,425.

“Heat illness is totally preventable and should not occur if proper procedures are followed. We take any heat-related incident seriously and enforce our standard to the fullest extent possible,” added Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “When employers provide the basics of water, shade, rest breaks, and training to identify the onset of heat illness, workers are better protected and lives are saved. Employers should know the signs and symptoms of heat illness, and have emergency response plans in place so that workers suffering from severe heat illness can quickly receive medical attention.”

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