Keeping safe at work in Kern County’s summer sun and adverse air quality

June 19, 2019 | 10:23 am


The month of June is National Safety Month, and in Bakersfield, we know June as the start of triple digit weather forecasts and stocking up on sunscreen.

For those working outdoors in Kern County, June and the summer months are also a time protection from the California sun, and adverse air quality. In fact, more injuries occur during the summer months in workplaces than at other times of the year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The industry sector experiencing the largest number of preventable fatal injuries is construction, followed by transportation and warehousing. Agriculture, forestry, transportation and warehousing sectors experience the highest fatality rates per 100,000 workers, according to the bureau. Taking preventative action can spare workers needless pain and suffering. For example, high temperatures can be dangerous to people at work and can lead to injuries, illnesses, and even death, the majority of which are preventable.

Read ahead to learn more about common threats to workers in the summer months, and how to prevent injuries.

 

Working in the heat

Every year, many workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some are fatally injured. These illnesses and fatalities are preventable.

Many people are exposed to heat on the job, in both indoor and outdoor environments. Operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, or strenuous physical activities have a high potential for causing heat-related illness.

Indoor workplaces with hot conditions may include iron and steel foundries, brick-firing and ceramic plants, glass products facilities, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, commercial kitchens, laundries, chemical plants, material handling and distribution warehouses, and many other environments. Outdoor workplaces with work in hot weather and direct sun, such as farm work, construction, oil and gas well operations, landscaping, emergency response operations, and hazardous waste site activities, also increase the risk of heat-related illness in exposed workers.

When a person works in a hot environment, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature through sweating. When the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature, cooling of the body becomes more difficult. If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, it will store it. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. If the person is not cooled down, fainting and even death could result.

Excessive exposure to heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can result in death and requires immediate medical attention. Exposure to heat can also increase the risk of injuries because of sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and burns from hot surfaces or steam.

Workers exposed to hot indoor environments or hot and humid conditions outdoors are at risk of heat-related illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or using bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment. Some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions, or if they have certain health conditions.

Heat-related illnesses can be prevented. Important ways to reduce heat exposure and the risk of heat-related illness include air conditioning and ventilation and work practices such as work-rest cycles, and staying hydrated. Employers should include these prevention steps in worksite training and plans. Also, it’s important to know and look out for the symptoms of heat-related illness in yourself and others during hot weather. Plan for an emergency and know what to do because acting quickly can save lives.

 

Air Quality & Valley Fever

Although not all workers who deal with the summer heat work outdoors, those who work outdoors are susceptible to many factors contributed to by bad air quality.  The workers in the fields have to be especially mindful of the side effects of the air they are breathing, but anyone outside could get unlucky.

Some illness or infections from breathing in bacteria and pollution are:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • valley fever
  • respiratory disease

Valley Fever and respiratory diseases have taken many lives in Kern County.  Those at a greater risk of getting valley fever and respiratory disease are workers in the fields. At any given month, workers have to contend with dust storms and breathing in soil ridden amounts of air.

What is valley fever? According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, valley fever — scientifically called coccidioidomycosis — is a fungal infection in the lungs from breathing in spores in the air.  The spores are microscopic fungi found in soil and it cannot be passed from person to person. The initial state of coccidioidomycosis can cause these symptoms that make it hard to diagnose:

  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches or joint pain
  • Rash on upper body or legs

According to the Kern County Public Health Services Department, 2937 cases of Valley Fever were reported last year. However, it unknown how many cases go unreported because the symptoms are similar to the common cold. It is advised to be aware of these symptoms because this initial state could worsen into acute and chronic coccidioidomycosis. These stages can then lead to missing months of work or death.

The Environmental Health News stated that 23,634 deaths occurred between 2013-2016 in Kern Country from Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (CLRD).  Included in these diseases are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, occupational lung diseases and pulmonary hypertension.  There are no cures for these diseases, but treatment can prevent them from worsening.

Workers have to be careful and knowing of these illnesses in order to recognize the symptoms and seek immediate medical care if the symptoms listed above persist.

 

Lastly, workers can take a safety pledge to never compromise their own safety or the safety of co-workers to get the job done, actively look for hazards, promptly report them, and take appropriate action to warn others.

— Alexa Esparza contributed to this report. 

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If you or someone you know is injured at work or becomes ill due to work condition, please contact the personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Work-related illnesses, Valley Fever, could result in workers’ compensation claim

January 20, 2015 | 10:22 am


Some people wouldn’t consider getting sick on the job as a workers’ compensation* injury issue.

“But you could be entitled to benefits under the workers’ compensation system if you get ill on the job, and the illness is as a result of the job,” said James Yoro, workers’ compensation attorney and partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Yoro recently spoke about this issue with radio deejay Sheri Ortiz on her show on The Groove 99.3. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here. Yoro and Chain | Cohn | Stiles associate attorney Beatriz Trejo also published an article recently in the Kern Business Journal focused on valley fever. To read that article, click here.

Specifically in the radio show, Yoro spoke about Valley Fever related to the workplace.

Under California law, Employers have responsibility to immediately report to Cal/OSHA any serious injury or illness, or death (including any due to Valley Fever) of an employee occurring in a place of employment or in connection with any employment, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations. Employers also have responsibilities to control workers’ exposure to hazardous materials.

Valley Fever is caused by a microscopic fungus known as coccidiodes immitis, which lives in the top two to 12 inches of soil in many parts of California. When soil is disturbed by activities such as digging, driving or high winds, fungal spores can become airborne and potentially be inhaled by workers.

In Kern County, around 500 cases of Valley Fever are reported in a typical year. Of those cases, about 5 people die from Valley Fever., according to Kern County Public Health Services Department. Kern County is also a leader and resource for treating and taking care of those infected with this disease.

When fungal spores are present, any work activity that disturbs the soil, such as digging, grading or other earth moving operations, or vehicle operation on dirt roads, can cause the spores to become airborne, and therefore increase the risk of Valley Fever. All workers on sites where the fungus is present, and who are exposed to dusty conditions and wind-blown dusts are at increased risk of becoming infected, according to Cal/OSHA. Some of those workers include: construction workers and other workers on construction sites, including road-building and excavation crews; archeologists; geologists; wildland firefighters; military personnel; workers in mining, quarrying, gas and oil extraction jobs; and agricultural workers.

Because there is no vaccine to prevent Valley Fever, important steps must be taken to limit risk, especially for employers. Some of those steps are as follows:

  • Determine if your worksite is in an endemic area.
  • Adopt site plans and work practices that reduce workers’ exposure, which may include minimizing the area of soil disturbed; using water, appropriate soil stabilizers, and/or re-vegetation to reduce airborne dust; stabilizing all spoils piles by tarping or other methods; providing air conditioned cabs for vehicles that generate heavy dust and make sure workers keep windows and vents closed; suspending work during heavy winds; placing any onsite sleeping quarters, if provided, away from sources of dust.
  • Employers must develop and implement a respiratory protection program in accordance with Cal/OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard.
  • Take measures to reduce transporting spores offsite, such as cleaning tools, equipment, and vehicles before transporting offsite; providing coveralls and change rooms, and showers where possible if workers’ clothing is likely to be heavily contaminated with dust.
  • Train workers and supervisors about the risk of Valley Fever, the work activities that may increase the risk, and the measures used onsite to reduce exposure. Also train on how to recognize Valley Fever symptoms.
  • Encourage workers to report Valley Fever symptoms promptly to a supervisor.

“It’s important that people are aware that if they work in dusty outside conditions and they acquire Valley Fever, there’s a strong possibility that it could be work related,” Yoro told Sheri Ortiz.

It’s important to note that half of all people with Valley Fever show no symptoms, or show symptoms similar to a cold. Another 40 to 50 percent develop an illness severe enough to prompt the person to go to a healthcare provider, which includes flu-like symptoms. Those symptoms typically develop between 7 and 20 days after the spores enter your body. And another 1 to 5 percent of Valley Fever cases have the fungus leave the main site (lungs) and spread to other parts of the body.

If you suspect you’ve gotten Valley Fever, or another illness, due to your job, first see a doctor to make sure diagnosis is correct, Yoro said. And if you believe you’ve contracted an illness or disease related to your profession, it’s important to retain an attorney as soon as possible.

James Yoro has been serving Kern County as an attorney for nearly 40 years. He specializes in workers* compensation cases with the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Call him at 661-323-4000 or visit the website chainlaw.com. Viisit Yoro’s specialized workers* compensation website by clicking here.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the values of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.