The United States Department of Labor estimates that thousands of workers develop heat-related illnesses on the job each year. Obviously, workers in any line of work who work outdoors may be exposed to extreme temperatures during the California summer.
Last week we discussed the issue of the heat in California in terms of workplace safety. Unfortunately, the California Division of Safety and Health is investigating at least two deaths that safety officials believe may have been heat-related. A Kern County-based farm operator has been shut down for potential heat safety issues in one of the workplace deaths.
Officials say that a 37-year-old man collapsed while checking irrigation equipment at a Tulare County lemon orchard Friday afternoon in 100-plus heat.
It was the second potentially heat-related fatality of the week. A worker had died in a watermelon field southwest of Fresno, California, just a few days earlier when temps climbed to 105 degrees on Tuesday.
Official causes of death have not been determined in either incident. However, with the excessive temperatures, work safety officials suspect that each of the outdoor workers may have succumbed to a work-related heat illness.
In the Tulare County lemon orchard fatality, officials say that the farm operator failed to follow California’s heat-illness prevention regulations. Authorities say that the operator, Etchegaray Farms LLC in McFarland, California, failed to provide proper access to shade for workers. The man’s brother says that workers were also not provided with water, according to 23 KERO in Bakersfield, California. Co-workers reportedly had no cellphone service and could not call for help from the field.
Authorities believe that other regulations were not properly followed at the farm—officials have closed down the operation at all of its locations until work safety issues are addressed.
Heat-related illnesses can vary in degree. There can be nothing more devastating for a family than the loss of a loved one from a work-related issue. Legal counsel is often the last thing on a person’s mind after a workplace accident or event causing harm to a worker. But, accident victims or their families may wish to seek legal assistance to learn what benefits or other remedies may be available under California law.
Source: 23 KERO Bakersfield, “Cal/OSHA stops outdoor worksite operations at Etchegaray Farms LLC,” July 9, 2013