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But this summer, Horton heard from field hands in Mendota that their employers were doing a better job of granting breaks, and even stopped work by noon during heat waves.This uptick in compliance may have resulted from a recent spotlight on poor labor conditions.While that heat wave proved uncomfortable for the Golden State, such extreme temperatures can actually be dangerous for the people who work outside.That’s especially true in the Central Valley, where a major portion of the nation’s fruits and vegetables are grown.One researcher, Sarah Horton, who has studied heat stress in Mendota for nearly a decade, says that when she started out in 2008, field-working conditions were “terrible.” Horton, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado-Denver, interviewed farmworkers about their experiences with heat sickness, and about friends and co-workers who lost their lives to it.
So it puts you at grave risk for heat stress,” said Thomas Arcury, director of Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Center for Worker Health.
On a 106-degree day in June 2016 in Laton, in Fresno County, a 54-year-old Mexican farmworker removing netting from nectarine trees suffered convulsions. Cal/OSHA cited the employer, a farm labor contractor, for six heat violations and assessed penalties of ,740.
CLRA also turned up numerous problems this summer during weekly field-monitoring trips.
With their labor supply under pressure, employers simply don’t want to risk losing more workers.
With laborers harvesting in some of the hottest regions of the country, at least four US farmworkers die from heat annually—20 times the rate in all non-military employees, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indeed, it was the death of 10 outdoor workers in 2005 that actually prompted California to institute a heat protection law.
North Carolina, for instance, has historically ranked as having the worst rate of US heat fatalities among ag workers, according to a 2008 CDC analysis, with roughly two heat deaths each year per every 100,000 farmworkers.