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Calif. Regulators To Target Farms

By Christine Souza
Calif. Farm Bureau
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A top official of the California workplace-safety agency says farmers and ranchers should expect more purposeful visits from it and other labor agencies, as they monitor for compliance with heat-safety rules and other standards.

“We are going to be doing targeted inspections based on better surveillance,” says Chief Ellen Widess of the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA. “We’re trying to refine and improve the targeting and the surveillance to be at the right places where we think there are likely to be violations.

“Agriculture will continue to be a major focus, so folks can expect that during the summer months, we’ll have our sister agencies out with us.”

The multi-agency enforcement approach described by Widess was reaffirmed by Benny Cheng, northern regional manager of the state labor commissioner’s office.

“We have joined forces with Cal/OSHA,” Cheng says. “The agencies are looking for employers who do not provide water or shade, and we are also checking for labor law violations,” adding that the agencies also intend “to make sure that employers are complying with state labor law, to make sure that they have worker’s compensation insurance and when employees are paid wages that they furnish the itemized statement.”

Major Investment In Time

In response to concerns from em-ployers about a lack of consistency when issuing citations, Cal/OSHA has invested additional time and resources to increase field staff training.

Widess says the agency has noted improving compliance rates on heat illness standards and characterized the level of compliance as “phenomenal.”

“The fact that we’re seeing so many more people in compliance means that the years of effort and collaboration within partnerships and the increased commitment of lots of folks in agriculture to heat illness prevention really paid off,” Widess says.

Along with heat safety, she says, the agency will be watching out for all other possible health and safety hazards, including lock-out/tag-out, electrocution hazards, driverless tractors, fall protection, unguarded machines and others.

Search For Violations

Widess says the agency would like to “try and find those employers who really are putting workers at risk,” while adding that Cal/OSHA officials “really want to try to do everything that we can to make it possible for good employers in agriculture to continue to thrive.”

AgSafe board vice chairman Rudy Avila asked Widess for a change in the manner in which Cal/OSHA conducts its regular inspections.

“Can we develop some kind of tag or form that says, ‘I’ve been inspected 35 times this year’?” Avila says. “If we can do something like that, it would really be helpful.”

Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.

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