Cal/OSHA Investigating First Heat Illness Fatality

Cal/OSHA is investigating the first possible heat illness related fatality of 2006. Joaquin Ramirez, a 38 year-old employee of Raul Hidalgo Lawn Services in Bakersfield, died July 19 after being on the job for only 3 days.

"We are fully committed to vigorously pursuing investigations of violations of the emergency heat illness prevention regulations throughout the state," said Labor and Workforce Development Agency Secretary Victoria Bradshaw. "If we find that there were violations of these regulations, we will use every means at our disposal to hold those responsible accountable. Gov. Schwarzenegger worked with leaders from the labor, business and healthcare industries to develop these health and safety regulations and we intend to make sure they are enforced to protect all of California's outdoor workers."

Heat illness prevention regulations were put into place in California in August 2005 on an emergency basis to try to minimize heat-related fatalities. Permanent regulations governing heat illness prevention should be finalized soon and will establish the nation's first mandatory precautions designed to protect outdoor workers from heat related illness and death. (See article "California Adopts Standard to Stave Off Heat-Related Deaths.")

Both employers and employees need to keep in mind the necessary precautions needed when working in high temperatures. Employers must provide ample drinking water and encourage workers to drink frequently, provide shade for breaks and watch closely for signs of heat stress including confusion, dizziness and headaches.

Employees need to remember that alcohol and medication, such as blood pressure medication, can put them at greater risk for heat-related illness. Health professionals advise outdoor workers to drink plenty of water, even if they are not thirsty. Workers should seek shade and tell employers if they are feeling ill. New employees need to allow their bodies time to adjust to textreme temperatures.

The emergency heat illness prevention regulations, currently in place until the permanent ones are finalized, can be found at www.dir.ca.gov.

For more information about heat-related illness and its prevention, visit the Cold/Heat Stress Safety Zone.

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