State fines Los Banos labor contractor after farmworker suffers heat illness

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comJanuary 20, 2012 

California regulators issued $61,425 in citations to a Los Banos-based labor contractor last week.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal-OSHA, said Jan. 11 it issued the fine to Agprime Corp. after a 16-year-old farmworker suffered from heat illness symptoms as he picked bell peppers in 105-degree heat near Bakersfield in July.

"Heat illness is totally preventable and should not occur if proper procedures are followed. We take any heat related incident seriously and enforce our standard to the fullest extent possible," Cal-OSHA Chief Ellen Widess said in a statement.

Cal-OSHA's investigation found that AgPrime did not provide adequate water, shade, rest breaks or first aid kits at the worksite and did not adequately train new employees or supervisors about the treatment and symptoms of heat illness, according to a release. The 16-year-old recovered from his illness.

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement also fined the company for child labor law violations.

Anthony Raimondo, AgPrime's lawyer, said he would file an appeal sometime this week. He said the fines were a charade, because the United Farm Workers and the American Civil Liberties Union sued Cal-OSHA in 2009, asserting the regulators were not doing enough to protect farmworkers.

"[Cal-OSHA] is trying to show how tough they are," Raimondo said.

The workplace regulator also levied $74,125 in citations to C. Clunn Consulting of Holtville the same day after employee Romero Vasquez, 47, died while loading 40-pound boxes of cantaloupe in Blythe, in July.

Christine Baker, director of Department of Industrial Relations, said for three years her department has been involved in a heat-illness prevention education campaign with employers.

"These incidents, including a tragic death, highlight the need for employers at outdoor worksites to be diligent and monitor their workers for signs of heat illness," Baker said in a statement.

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