UFW sues Cal-OSHA over lack of heat safety regulation enforcement

UFW: Cal-OSHA failed to enforce regulations

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - The United Farm workers of America is suing the agency that is supposed to help protect farm workers.

On Thursday the UFW and five farm workers filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Cal-OSHA and Cal-OSHA director Ellen Widess.

UFW chief administrative officer Teresa Romero said Cal-OSHA has failed to make farmers comply with heat regulations.

"We're just hoping they will understand all we're trying to do is protect farm workers," said Romero.

The 50 page lawsuit accuses Cal-OSHA of systematically failing to enforce the state's heat illness protection regulations.

The suit claims Cal-OSHA has failed to initiate investigations after serious heat complaints were filed, that its investigations have been slow or incomplete and regularly fails to issue citations.

"In many cases when workers filed complaints, Cal-OSHA didn't follow through and workers died," said Romero.

California's heat illness regulations were approved in 2005 and requires employers to provide water, shade and rest to outdoor workers to protect them from heat illness.

"28 workers have died since 2005," said Romero.

But Cal-OSHA disputes that number, saying there have only been seven heat related deaths.

The agency issued a statement that said "Protecting farm workers from heat illness is one of cal-osha's major priorities...We have issued hundreds of citations and penalties for heat safety standard violations and compliance has increased in all industries from 32% in 2006 to 76% in 2011."

"It is frustrating and we wish we didn't have to be here but unfortunately we have no choice. We need to protect their lives. We're only asking for water, shade, rest time to put the food on our tables," said Romero.

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