by STEPHANIE ESPINOZA/South Kern Sol
BAKERSFIELD– Last month a 16-year-old farmworker suffered from a heat-related illness in Kern County. His case has raised concern over heat illness prevention.
On May 14, 2008, 17-year-old Maria Isavel fainted after working nearly nine hours on a vineyard in Farmington. Her core body temperature was 108 degrees on that day. She died two days later.
Although the Cal/OSHA has taken steps to keep farmworkers safe from the blazing sun, it’s the continue lack of knowledge or enforcement Heat Illness Prevention that has proven deadly.
South Kern Sol spoke with Public Information Officer Erika Monterroza from the Department of Industrial Relations about Cal/OSHA to see how they investigate heat-related cases and train employers in Heat Illness Prevention.
Q: What is Cal/OSHA?
Erika Monterroza: Cal/OSHA is the agency that is charged with enforcing regulations in the state of California to protect workers across the state. Cal/OSHA’s goal is to improve safety and health in the workplace through standards of enforcement, consultation assistance and training programs.
Q: What is Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention about?
Erika Monterroza: It is one of the many regulations of Cal/OSHA and it’s one that has a broad scope because of the fact that there are so many outdoor worksites in California which includes agriculture. It has been a special emphasis of Cal/OSHA and in fact we have launched a comprehensive education, enforcement and public awareness campaign over the last several years. The public awareness campaign was adopted on a national basis and a large part of it’s success is that so many community advocates including the Catholic Diocese have provided assistance in getting the word out about Heat Illness Prevention and how to let Cal/OSHA know when they have concerns about workplace safety.
Q: Is the emergency heat plan different for every outdoor worksite?
Erika Monterroza: It does differ because it has to be specific to their worksite and it’s suppose to be in writing. Every single employer in California is required to have what is called an “injury and illness prevention program” and that is a safety document in writing which is a living breathing document because it needs to apply to the specifics of the worksite such as the different occupations they have, the duties they’re required to do, and what the risks are. It also requires that each employer or company to have regular inspections at their worksite in order to make sure that the document is up to date and that the people are following up the document in order to minimize the risks on the job because the goal is to have a good day at work and to be able to come home at the end of the day.
Q: How many inspectors enforce Heat Illness Prevention?
Erika Monterroza: There are about 200 across the state and those inspectors are out in multiple industries on a regular basis in order to make sure that workers are safe on the worksite and that employers are following the regulations set out within the occupational safety codes. The second kind of inspection that is done is when there is worksite accidents or injury that is required to be reported to Cal/OSHA and that includes fatalities. Cal/OSHA responds on a regular basis to those. If an employee is injured on a worksite and it requires the employee to be hospitalized for 24 hours or more for anything other than observation then it requires to be reported to Cal/OSHA. Cal/OSHA also investigates when complaints are received. Investigators take complaints very seriously. Especially, when it is from an employee or one of the employee’s representatives. All complaints to Cal/OSHA are all confidential because we want to make sure that there is no retaliation on part of the employer to someone who makes a complaint. We don’t want that to be a deterrent to have a safe workplace. In fact members of the public can also make those complaints.
Q: How does Cal/OSHA reach out to Kern County?
Erika Monterroza: There are roughly 20 district offices. Each one has its region and they do enforcement on a regular basis. They also follow up on complaints and accident investigations. There is also extensive outreach across the state. We don’t wait for people to come to the office. We actually go out to do training and have consultation staff that will go out to employer sites and will assist them free of charge.
Q: Is the Heat Illness Prevention regulation the same for children who work in agriculture?
Erika Monterroza: Heat Illness Prevention is across the board.