FRESNO (AP) ― The United Farm Workers of America sued California’s work safety division Thursday, saying state regulators aren’t enforcing heat regulations, leading to continued illnesses and deaths in the fields.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the union and individual farmworkers, alleges that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health failed in the last two years to conduct inspections in response to some heat complaints, didn’t initiate inspections on time, and failed to cite or adequately fine violators.
The agency said in a statement that it has "issued hundreds of citations and penalties for heat safety standard violations" and that "the lawsuit filed today risks draining resources away from these critical enforcement actions."
An ongoing lawsuit filed in 2009 alleged similar violations in earlier years.
At least 14 farmworkers have died of heat-related causes since 2005, when California adopted the nation’s first rules requiring shade and water for the state’s 450,000 farmworkers.
There were three confirmed heat-related fatalities in 2008, none in 2009, none in 2010 and one last year. Four deaths this summer are being investigated.
The heat rules require employers with outdoor workers to establish and implement emergency procedures, and to provide training on heat illness prevention, drinking water ― at least 1 quart per hour per employee ― and shade when temperatures are above 85 degrees.