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Workplace injuries: Cal/OSHA settles lawsuits over heat exposure

When summer temperatures soar, California workers are exposed to a litany of additional hazards, especially those workers who spend most of their time working in the outdoors. Exposure to heat can cause severe workplace injuries, and, in severe cases, heat can be fatal. Workers rely on authorities, such as the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to ensure that employers comply with safety regulations and protect them from hazards.

A farm workers union, along with its members, filed lawsuits against Cal/OSHA in 2009 and 2012, claiming that inspections of farms were not carried out timely and efficiently. It was alleged that, for this reason, employers disregarded safety regulations, and workers were exposed to heat hazards. Both lawsuits have reportedly now been settled, and, as part of the settlement, Cal/OSHA has made specific changes to improve its management of heat-related workplace hazards.

In the future, investigations will be completed without delay in order to take quick action against violators of heat safety regulations. During times of excessive heat when workers are at higher risk, all California OSHA inspectors will focus on workplaces where workers are performing their duties outside, including farms. It was also agreed that farm worker unions will report violating employers to the agency. Internal audits will be carried out at Cal/OSHA to ensure timely responses to complaints and effective actions against violators.

Furthermore, farm workers' declarations will be recorded during inspections for use in later hearings. Despite all these new arrangements, the risks of suffering workplace injuries due to over-exposure to heat remain high. Affected workers may take comfort in knowing that they are entitled to pursue compensation for medical expenses related to such injuries. By filing claims for benefits with the workers' compensation insurance fund, financial relief may be obtained.

Source: thecalifornian.com, "Lawsuits prompt changes to heat protection rules", Dennis L. Taylor, June 17, 2015

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