California sunshine is a thing most people consider desirable. It usually signifies beaches, fun and a carefree lifestyle. For tens of thousands of farmworkers, California sunshine with its blazing heat signifies heat related illness and, in some cases, death. This is a serious problem regularly faced by those working in the fields.
The Importance of Farmworkers
The agriculture business is a highly valued enterprise in California, over $50 billion annually. The Central Valley area is responsible for $6 billion each year. More than two-thirds of the fruits and nuts Americans consume come from California and one-third of the vegetables. Manual labor is a key part of the production of these crops.
Preventing Heat Illness and Related Farm Injuries
In 2005, California implemented regulations to help ensure that farmworkers are protected against heat illness. By law, employers must provide their farm workers with water, shade and rest. Too many farm workers were compelled to work without relief on hot days.
Employers must provide workers and their supervisors with training on preventing heat illness. They must also provide fresh drinking water for employees. Workers are taught that they should consume enough water to keep themselves sufficiently hydrated – at least one quart of water every hour. They are also encouraged to drink water whether or not they feel thirsty.
Shade must also be provided for employees. Five-minute cool-down rest periods are encouraged and workers are urged to take advantage of these breaks before they feel sick. Since many workers earn by the amount of produce they pick, a piece-rate wage, taking a rest can mean lower pay. The California Labor Commissioner’s Office now enforces a law to make sure that laborers receive their piece-rate wage during the time the take cool-down breaks.
An Escalating Problem
According to scientists who study weather trends, the heat experienced by farmworkers will not be diminishing in the years to come. In fact, they are predicting an average increase of 5 degrees by 2060. Weather fluctuations will continue to affect crops and workers in the coming years. Unexpected freezing kills crops and drought causes lower yields. Meanwhile, farmworkers work hard harvesting whatever the crop provides.
Regulations protecting workers need to be followed. No one should get sick or die while trying to make a living and put food on the table for their family. Michael Gasparian and the attorneys at Maison Law are here to help if you or a loved one has experienced personal injury due to heat-related illness. Contact us at our Visalia, CA, office for an initial consultation. We proudly serve clients in the Central Valley area.