An agreement has been reached between the United Farmworkers Union and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) on behalf of five farmworkers who suffered damages due to heat-related deaths. The safety agency agreed to refocus enforcement of heat-related regulations for farmworkers, audit those regulations and make complaints more accessible to the public. They will be implementing an electronic complaint tracking system that will allow them to be more widely available “in a manner that is understandable to the average person.”
According to the lawsuit, Cal-OSHA had been neglecting enforcement duties for a 2005 law concerning outdoor workers and their exposure to heat. It also promised to keep a task force to review employer’s heat illness prevention plans, as well as place harsher restrictions on employers who do not comply in high heat periods, and allow the United Farmworkers Union access to documents of enforcement audits for this through 2016. Allegedly, Cal-OSHA failed to conduct inspections for 55 of 78 complaints filed by the union, which prompted a separate memorandum of outlines stating how Cal-OSHA and the union will handle heat complaints.
This agreement will give the United Farmworkers Union more power in deciding workplace safety and reporting violators. The union stated that the settlement will enforce, “more effective, timely and consistent inspections of farm and other outdoor work sites under California’s recently improved heat-illness prevention regulations.” According to records obtained from Cal-OSHA, 13 agricultural workers and one cheese manufacturing worker died of heat illness in between 2005 and 2014, yet the union claims as many as 28 died.
A representative of Cal-OSHA note that the provisions of the agreement did not create any new enforceable obligations and that they had already been discussing and implementing other provisions concerning the matter earlier this year. “They were generally things we were already doing,” they stated. “It’s more of a statement of cooperation that will lead to better employee safety.” Regulations for this year include placing water closer to workers, providing enough shade for everyone, and giving a ten min. break per two hours of work on high heat days.
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