The United Farm Workers has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) over its alleged “systemic failure” to enforce a 7-year-old regulation requiring farmers to provide water, shade and rest to employees to prevent heat illness or death. Bautista v. Cal/OSHA, No. n/a (Cal. Super. Ct., Los Angeles Cnty., filed October 18, 2012). The union contends that “[a]t least 28 farm workers have died of potentially heat-related causes since the regulation was first approved in 2005. This year alone, Cal/OSHA is investigating heat as a factor in the deaths of four people.”
The complaint, filed on behalf of individual farm workers, the United Farm Workers (UFW) and UFW Foundation, alleges, among other matters, that Cal/OSHA has failed to (i) “conduct on-site inspections for complaints”; (ii) “evaluate the conditions alleged in a complaint when it does conduct inspections”; (iii) “issue citations for serious, repeat, or willful violations of the Heat Illness Prevention regulation that it has found to exist”; (iv) “investigate the causes of potentially heat-related injuries and fatalities and to evaluate the conditions involved in such incidents”; (v) “conduct re-inspections or penalize an employer’s failure to accomplish and certify abatement of violations of the Heat Illness Prevention regulation, effectively providing free passes to employers that choose not to comply with the law”; (vi) initiate investigations into serious heat complaints against agricultural employers within three days, which is especially critical in this highly mobile industry where work sites and workers may migrate miles each day”; and (vii) “impose and collect meaningful penalties for violation of the Heat Illness Prevention regulation.” See United Farm Workers Press Release, October 18, 2012.