By ELIZABETH VARIN
Imperial Valley Press Staff Writer
The state agency charged with protecting workers and the public from safety hazards has cited a local farm labor company for what it says is the first confirmed heat-related fatality in 2011.
The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued citations against two California farm labor contractors — AgPrime Corp. of Los Banos and C. Clunn Consulting of Holtville — following investigations into violations of California’s heat-illness prevention regulations, according to a press release from the state agency.
“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 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 case involving the local company, an employee, Romero Vasquez, 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, according to the press release. 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, according to the press release.
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.
Calls to C. Clunn Consulting for comment were not returned by press time.
The second case involved AgPrime Corp., which faces a $61,425 penalty after a 16-year-old farmworker became ill while picking bell peppers in a field southwest of Bakersfield.
Following the two incidents Cal/OSHA representatives stressed the importance of heat illness prevention.
“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,” said 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.”
For more information on heat illness prevention and training materials, visit the Cal/OSHA Web site at http://www.dir.ca.gov/heatillness
Employees with work-related questions or complaints, including heat illness, can call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at 866-924-9757.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-337-3441.