Two California Companies Cited for Violating Heat Illness Standard

Two California farm labor contractors were cited by Cal/OSHA following investigations into the heat illness of two employees this past summer, one of which resulted in the first confirmed heat related death of 2011.

The Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued citations to C. Clunn Consulting of Holtville and AgPrime Corp. of Los Banos for violating 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 DIR 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.”

“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.”

In the first case, C. Clunn Consulting employee Romero Vasquez, age 47, collapsed in a cantaloupe field in Blythe on July 7 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 did not provide employees or supervisors required training on how to identify and treat symptoms of heat illness. C. Clunn 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.

A willful violation is issued when evidence shows the employer is aware that a hazardous condition exists and no reasonable effort is made to eliminate the hazard. A serious violation is cited when there is a realistic possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation. A general violation is one in which an accident or illness may result but would probably not cause death or serious harm.

In the second case, a 16 year old farmworker employed by AgPrime Corp. was picking peppers with his guardians in a field southwest of Bakersfield 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 farmworker 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.

Cal/OSHA referred this case to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) due to the age of the young affected farmworker and the circumstances that led to the injured worker and his guardians’ separation of employment from AgPrime. DLSE issued two citations of $500 each to AgPrime for child labor violations – one for failure to maintain a permit and the second for working outside of the permitted hours for a minor. The investigation further recovered wages totaling $500 for the 16 year old and his guardians. Subsequent wage claims and retaliation claims filed by the three were resolved by settlement, resulting in an additional payment of $400 to each claimant.

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