Harsh heat laws in effect in California

June 19, 2008 7:31:09 PM PDT
The count for heat-related deaths in California could already be at two, despite our state having the most stringent heat laws in the country.

Nobody feels the soaring temperatures more than those who work outside. John Foston knows he has to be careful.

"You could pass out here. The heat can get intense, you know," said Foston.

Since late summer of 2005, the state of California has required companies to take precautions for their outdoor employees.

Cal OSHA is now holding seminars throughout the state reminding employers of the law. They must provide water at the site, breaks and shaded areas for those rest periods. All workers must also be trained on how to spot the symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

"This is something real. This exists at every job outdoors in the summer time in this state, sometimes year-round depending where you're at. You have to be planning and preparing your workers to be able to recognize when they may be in danger," said Dave Strickler from Cal OSHA.

Governor Schwarzenegger issued an emergency order implementing the changes soon after the big 2005 heat wave, which killed 12 outdoor workers.

The following year, eight died and last year, it was down to one.

But California has already equaled that this year.

But there is a sobering reminder that not all companies are following the law. Maria Isabel Jimenez Vasquez died of heat stroke last month after collapsing in a Central Valley vineyard.

Witnesses told state investigators the 17-year-old worked more than nine hours without shade and was too intimidated to take sufficient water breaks.

The pregnant girl's family is suing her employer, Merced Farm Labor, to protect more outdoor workers.

"What the family suffered, what we saw, we don't want them to have fear of speaking out," said the victim's uncle Doroteo Jimenez

State labor officials shut down Merced Farm Labor, accusing it of failing to train employees to cope with the heat. Meanwhile, another death in Kern County at an oil drilling company is being investigated by the state as heat-related.


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