Late last week the United Farm Workers of America filed a lawsuit against the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) claiming the safety regulation group failed in its duty to enforce regulations protecting outdoor workers.
Specifically the suit claims in the last two years Cal/OSHA failed to conduct inspections in response to some heat complaints, didn’t initiate inspections on time, and failed to cite or adequately fine violators.
In response to the suit Cal/OSHA released a statement saying 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.”
A similar ongoing lawsuit filed in 2009 alleges similar violations in earlier years.
Since 2005, when Cal/OSHA instituted the nation’s first rules requiring shade, brakes and water for workers in high temperature conditions, at least 14 farmworkers have died of heat related illnesses.
Some of the plaintiffs in the suit are related to farmworkers who died of heat-related illnesses.
“It has been four years since my mother passed away, and people are still dying,” Margarita Alvarez Bautista, whose mother died two weeks after collapsing in 2008 while picking grapes in Riverside County, said in the statement.
According to the suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, in the summer of 2011, UFW staff filed or assisted farm workers in filing 78 complaints reporting serious violations of the rules.
The suit states that Cal/OSHA did not conduct inspections for at least 55 of the 78 complaints, did not initiate an inspection within three days for at least 43 of the 78 complaints, and despite documented violations, issued a citation for violation in only three of the 78 cases.
In the past Cal/OSHA, which has 200 inspectors, has acknowledged challenges in responding to allegations. Amongst those challenges were trouble verifying allegations in some cases where workers were no longer present at a site, where inspectors couldn’t find the site, or where the violation was no longer present.
In 2011 Cal/OSHA conducted 1,090 heat inspections and devoted a third of the agency’s resources to heat illness prevention, according to Cal/OSHA spokesman Dean Fryer.
Through those inspections it was found that 25 percent of employers were not following the states heat illness prevention rules. According to Cal/OSHA this marks a great improvement since the regulations were first adopted.