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New UFW Suit Against DOSH on Heat Illness

Even as its case against California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health continues in the appellate system, the United Farm Workers union has filed a new lawsuit against the safety agency, alleging continued "systematic failure" to enforce the state's heat illness prevention regulation.

The suit was announced this morning and was filed by Public Counsel and the Munger, Tolles & Olson law firm on behalf of UFW and individual farm workers. The suit notes that at least 28 farm workers have died of "potentially heat-related causes" since General Industry Safety Orders section 3395 was adopted in 2005.

DOSH has said its enforcement of the standard has resulted in increasing compliance among employers, but UFW said the statistics show that one of every four employers fails to comply with the regulation, "leaving more than 156,000 farm workers on at least 8,400 farms at risk."

The "systematic failures" UFW alleges include:

  • Failure to conduct on-site inspections of worker complaints and not evaluating alleged violative conditions in the inspections it does conduct. The suit also contends that DOSH fails to investigate serious heat illness complaints within three days.
  • Failure to issue serious, repeat or willful violations for heat illness violations.
  • Failure to investigate the causes of potentially heat-related injuries and fatalities.
  • A lack of re-inspections to verify abatement of heat illness violations.
  • Failure to impose and collect "meaningful penalties" for heat illness violations.

The new suit includes evidence from 2011 and 2012, "which shows that Cal/OSHA's failure is not a thing of the past, but persists today," Public Counsel says.

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