A few weeks ago, our workers' compensation defense blog reported on how the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) announced that its officials will be closely monitoring farmers and ranchers across California over the next several months to ensure compliance with heat safety rules.
Interestingly enough, there is a rather sizeable group of individuals who feel that the agency is actually not doing enough to enforce these rules and protect the wellbeing of agricultural workers.
The United Farm Workers union and Public Counsel Law Center, a public interest law firm, have long asserted that the structure of the heat safety rules -- introduced back in 2005 -- is inherently flawed. Specifically, they argue the primary flaw is that all worker complaints must be filed directly with Cal/OSHA officials who are prone to either ignoring the complaints altogether or failing to ensure that the necessary punitive/remedial measures are taken.
In fact, Public Counsel filed a lawsuit against Cal/OSHA back in 2009, alleging that the agency was failing to live up to its obligations to enforce heat safety compliance.
While Cal/OSHA indicated that it would improve enforcement in response to the lawsuit, both Public Counsel and UFW believe that this has not occurred. (UFW claims to have filed more than 75 heat-related complaints in 2011, but that Cal/OSHA inspected less than 25 of them and that only three citations were issued.)
"The agency has repeatedly failed to respond to serious complaints about heat-related violations and continues not to issue citations even when inspectors have found serious violations," said Maureen Carroll, an attorney with Public Counsel. "I can't imagine, seeing that it's 90 degrees in the shade, not taking action to correct that situation, which is really life-threatening."
Interestingly, UFW, Public Counsel and other worker advocacy groups are now rallying around legislation proposed by Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Los Angeles) -- Senate Bill 2346 -- that would provide all agricultural workers with the ability to take employers to court for violating the heat safety rules.
"Current regulations are not being adhered to and we need to ensure that human beings are being treated like human beings," said Butler.
It is worth noting that Cal/OSHA has vigorously denied these accusations of lax enforcement of heat safety standards.
"In cases where failure to comply with the heat regulations has constituted an imminent hazard for employees, Cal-OSHA has issued orders shutting down operations until the employer has demonstrated their compliance with the requirements of the standard, thereby protecting workers from harm," said Cal/OSHA spokesperson Erika Monterroza.
Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...
This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.
Merced Sun-Star, "Central Valley, Merced area workers back hot weather bill" March 24, 2012
Fox News Latino, "United Farm Workers union backs heat relief bill before California legislature" March 27, 2012