Schwarzenegger Orders Farmworker Heat Protection Rules
Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) announced emergency orders requiring water and shade for outdoor laborers who fall ill in the searing heat.
The regulations mark the first significant rules protecting California farmworkers, construction crews, roofers, landscapers and others from heat-related illness and death. According to supporters, the new rules are the toughest heat-related workplace regulations in the country, even stronger than those in other heat-prone states such as Texas and Arizona.
The new rules also represent a breakthrough on an issue that has divided California's agricultural industry, farmworker groups and lawmakers, Republican and Democratic alike. The new rules have the support from both the United Farm Workers and groups representing agribusiness, such as the Western Growers Association and the California Farm Bureau.
The regulations, expected to take effect in mid-August, would require access to shade for at least five minutes of "recovery time" if a worker feels symptoms of heatstroke, including headache, muscle cramps, vomiting and weakness. Sources of shade may include an umbrella, a canopy, or a car.
California health regulations currently require water to be available for farmworkers – the only heat-related protection mandated by the state. The new rules for the first time set an amount: a quart for every employee each hour they work.
Farmers and other employers who violate the rules are subject to fines and, if they willfully violate the law, misdemeanor criminal charges.
Officials plan to aggressively enforce the regulations, using a newly formed crew of 64 inspectors devoted to investigating the agriculture industry, sweatshops and the underground economy.
Another component of the rules, that Schwarzenegger highlights, is an education campaign to teach laborers and farmers how to spot symptoms of heatstroke and seek medical help.
The Cal-OSHA labor standards board is expected to approve the emergency regulations Aug. 12, followed by a 10-day review by the Office of Administrative Law. The measures would be in effect for 120 days, but Schwarzenegger said he would move to make them permanent.
The state has been contemplating new rules for 15 years, since a Contra Costa County tomato picker seeking shade crawled under a trailer and was run over and killed.
The governor's regulations come a month after Democrats in the Assembly passed a bill to require that the state issue regulations to prevent on-the-job heat sickness. Every Republican in the Assembly voted against the bill, which is pending now in the Senate. The measure, by Assemblywoman Judy Chu (D), would require employers to provide workers at least two gallons of water per eight-hour shift, access to shade and 10-minute hourly breaks during heat waves.
According to the United Farm Workers, eight people died from heat-related problems between 1990 and 2004. Five farmworkers have died this summer.
Some worker advocates have concerns that the regulations do not require employers to shade workers during breaks and lunches, and that they put the onus on workers who are feeling sick to ask for a break. Some also believe the new rules will be difficult to enforce and may not provide enough relief. For example, a worker could be given an umbrella and forced to continue working. They also criticize the regulations for doing nothing to protect workers in packinghouses, restaurants and other hot, enclosed places.