Global Warming and Heat Related Injuries on the Job

As I sit here writing this blog in triple-digit heat, with my A/C going full blast, drinking out of my fifth plastic bottle of water for the day, and contributing to my growing carbon footprint, which is probably the size of the state of California by now, much to my dismay, I'm reminded of CalOSHA's heat warnings to employers to take special precautions for workers who must work in the heat.

The new permanent heat illness prevention standard requires employers to take simple steps of providing shade and water, to provide for emergency procedures in case a worker gets sick from the heat, and to undergo training to recognize and properly respond to the symptoms of heat illnesses.

In fact, just last week, a California farm operator was shut down for violations of the heat illness prevention standard. It was the second farm labor contractor to be shut down within a two-day period. A state enforcement sweep this past month of 25 agricultural work sites in the San Joaquin Valley found 20 violations of the heat illness prevention standard. You can read all about it here.

Unfortunately, this was all too late for Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, an 18-year-old Lodi farm laborer, who collapsed last month in in the field after working 8 hours in the heat and who died 2 days later from heat exhaustion symptoms. The temperature on the day she collapsed peaked at 95 degrees. 

Will the effects of global warming contribute to more heat-related deaths and injuries of workers who work outdoors? Will we forget the tragic heat-related deaths of Ms. Jimenez and others too soon?  

For discussion of the legal implications of global warming, check out the LexisNexis Environmental Law & Climate Change Center

 

Comments

Robin E. Kobayashi
  • 06-23-2008

Robin -- your comments on global warming, workers compensation law, and farm laborers, reminds me of how truly interconnected we all are. The effects of global warming remind us of how subtle (and not so subtle) and inevitable these connections can be. What strikes me now, though, is the legal aspect. In a litigous American society, legal action can sometimes be seen as a means to escape responsibility, but here, with investigations into the heat illness prevention standards, it''s clear that legal action is the way to enforce and assign responsibility -- at a time when, clearly, the need for responsibility for our planet and our workers is increasing.

Robin E. Kobayashi
  • 06-23-2008

Thank you for your comments. What can we do to increase the reach of both OSHA and risk management so that employers value the lives of all people as well as the planet? Regarding OSHA, it's unfortunate that employers have to be slapped with OSHA fines or be shut down before they take these safety orders seriously. Will more unannounced OSHA sweeps solve the problem? I doubt it. Regarding the latter, I've read that the hotel industry is going "green" and using natural cleaners because it means less injuries for its cleaning staff who often had to work with chemical cleaners. It's a start I guess.

Robin E. Kobayashi
  • 06-24-2008

I am interested in this since my family continues to be in the farming business for two generations. My dad was a harvester who took care of his people. That was dinner time discussion. There is no excuse for anything else, and as far as I know, OSHA looks after the situation pretty well. I don't understand how a young woman was allowed to work  under conditions that would lead to her death. Obviously a lack of respect and regard for the work that laborers do, work not many others are willing to take on, all which produces the food for our table. We as a society have a disconnect for how the food we eat gets to our stores and thus our tables. I am glad you are commenting on and tracking this. And as the commentary states under your blog, perhaps legal means is the only way to insure that working conditions are maintained properly and no one else dies. Thanks for sharing this.

Robin E. Kobayashi
  • 07-06-2008

The Examiner.com reports that a lawsuit has been filed against a company in which it's alleged that the company, in order to escape liability, moved an immigrant worker's dead body underneath the shade of a tree after he died during a heatwave in Central Valley, CA. To read the full article, see www.examiner.com/a-1474212~Suit__Company_moved_dead_worker_s_body.html.

Robin E. Kobayashi
  • 04-23-2009

Almost one year later we now have criminal and civil charges filed with respect to the tragic death of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez. See law.lexisnexis.com/.../Calif-LWDA-Releases-Statement-on-Criminal-and-Civil-Charges-Filed-in-Farm-Worker-Heat-Related-Death