Commentary: Comprehensive efforts show commitment to heat safety


Issue Date: May 23, 2012
By Rich Matteis
Rich Matteis The California heat-safety standard assures adequate shade, water, rest breaks, training and emergency preparation for people who work outside in hot weather.
Photos/Christine Souza
The California heat-safety standard assures adequate shade, water, rest breaks, training and emergency preparation for people who work outside in hot weather.
Photos/Christine Souza
Rich Matteis

Of all the sectors in the California economy, agriculture has been the most proactive in addressing the safety of employees who work outside on hot days.

Farmers, ranchers, farm employees, farm labor contractors, safety specialists, farm organizations and state regulators have accepted responsibility and conducted comprehensive, coordinated efforts to make sure people who work on the farm know what to do to prevent heat illness:

  • Agricultural leaders stepped forward to work with Cal/OSHA in developing the first-in-the-nation heat illness regulations in 2005; in establishing permanent regulations in 2006; and in strengthening the regulations in 2010. The regulations assure adequate water, shade, rest breaks, training and emergency preparation for people who work outside in hot weather.
  • In the past four years, more than 13,000 farmers, supervisors, farm labor contractors and farm employees have been trained in heat safety at seminars organized by California farm groups, safety organizations and workers' compensation insurance carriers. Those people, in turn, have trained hundreds of thousands of farm employees each year. This represents a sustained effort, with workshops already held this year and more scheduled.
  • Pocket-sized heat-safety educational cards, in English and Spanish, have been distributed to thousands of farm employees in California.
  • More than 650 Spanish-language radio advertisements describing safety steps and symptoms of heat illness—paid for by agricultural organizations—have aired during hot spells, with another 180 scheduled to air during 2012. The radio outreach campaign targets key agricultural areas, with ads airing each year on stations in Chico, Sacramento, Fresno and Coachella. These advertising efforts complement a separate advertising campaign conducted by Cal/OSHA.
  • More than 15,000 Igloo-brand water coolers, printed with heat-safety information in English and Spanish, have been purchased for use on farms.
  • Many farmers shift work schedules on hot days, starting earlier so field work ends by early afternoon, and farm organizations promote this strategy as one effective safety method.
  • Farm groups publish articles in their newspapers and newsletters, post messages on websites and social media, produce videos and other educational materials to reinforce heat safety and encourage participation in annual training sessions.
  • Agricultural organizations work each year to improve training, prevention and emergency response.
  • Resources available to state regulators for outreach and enforcement have grown thanks to industry funding via a surcharge on workers' compensation insurance premiums. A newly opened Cal/OSHA district enforcement office in Bakersfield will further enhance the agency's outreach and enforcement.
  • Farm groups have sponsored new legislation to facilitate use of shade trailers on farms and ranches, by applying the same vehicle registration requirements as for other farm equipment that the law allows to be moved on public roads.

It's working.

The state Department of Industrial Relations reports that the number of heat-related incidents in California has decreased in the past three years, with fewer illnesses and increased compliance with the state heat-safety standard.

Cal/OSHA conducted 3,251 heat illness compliance inspections on farms last year, up from 234 in 2006. Through those inspections, 76 percent of farms were found to be in full compliance with heat-safety regulations. Of the violations reported, 85 percent were for training or paperwork shortcomings.

Farmers, ranchers, farm groups and safety organizations have made a long-term commitment to educate, train and seek effective policies that assure safety on hot days, and are committed to continuous improvement that assures flexibility and success.

(Rich Matteis is administrator of the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be reached at rmatteis@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.