In California, we have a regulation that no other state presently has. The regulation is about heat illness prevention.
I have mixed feelings about this regulation, and I have strong opinions on how we are handling the regulation which is in it’s third year since it has been promulgated.
On the face of it, the regulation is very well intended. In a nut shell, the employer has to provide drinking water, shade, training on heat stress symptoms and emergency provisions should an employee become ill due to the heat. As they say, the Devil is in the details. The finer points of this regulation has led to many heated (pardon the pun) debates, even amongst our own "leaders". What constitutes shade? When does it need to be provided? 85 degrees? 90? Do vehicles with air conditioning count? How many canopies for how many workers? How far away from the crew can it be? How much water? How cool? How often should a worker be drinking?
Heat is nothing new to California, especially the Central Valley. The coastal areas do not have the same problem with heat as the Central Valley has. Take today for example, it is forecasted to hit 104. This is not unusual.
It is also not unusual to have heat related illnesses during the summer. Sadly, it is not unusual to see a few fatalities due to heat illness either. It is hard brutal work to be out in the fields when it is 100 degrees, or in a food processing plant where not only is it hot but humid as well.
Fueled politically by certain groups who feel we have not done enough for the farm workers, and other political considerations, heat illness prevention is top priority. Should I go out and investigate why an amputation occurred, or a complaint that there may not be enough water or shade in a tomato field? Guess….
If you guessed that I need to run out and see if the field has a shade structure, you guessed right. The amputation can wait.
This is one point I disagree with. Especially when many of these complaints come in with incorrect addresses if an address at all (oh it is SOMEWHERE on Livingston Rd, perhaps the cross street is Smith.. Then you find out that Smith and Livingston are parallel and do not meet). Or when you get there, no one has worked in that field for at least a week.
On rare occasion the complaint does have a correct address. But there is no violation. Or at least not what they alleged. They DID have water, they DID have shade…ok fine, they ran out of paper cups. Fine, I have a ticket to issue. Yes, this was more important than the amputation....Right-O. Don't get me started. I might say things my administration would have my head for.
This year, we have teams going out EVERY week. Tomorrow, I start my assigned week in the field doing a “sweep”. A "sweep" is driving around all day, looking for crews and checking. Water? Shade? Porta-pottties? Written Program? Training? We have been out and hit many of the same Farm Labor Contractors time and time again. We are batting a 90% in compliance rate (no violations). It seems that time is best spent on other activities, but I don’t call the shots.
Luckily, I am teamed up with someone who can speak Spanish. It would be difficult to do inspections with my very limited Spanish since most field workers are Spanish speaking. Some are Punjabi, and a few are Laotian. Rarely are they English speaking.
But I shouldn’t complain. At least I can expect a full paycheck on Aug 1. Maybe there will be one crew that I can benefit to some degree.
It will be a hot week. I am already looking forward to it being over with!