Ag at Large: Heat protection draws a crowd

By Don Curlee

It used to be that heat protection for outside workers involved a straw hat, a canteen and some salt pills. Today, it depends on a ton of regulations, a mob of puppets to enforce them, sophisticated equipment and mobile shade.

You’d think humans have regressed, become weakened by modern society or too much pampering so as to be susceptible to greater injury at lower summer temperatures than 50 years ago.

For more than 10 years the great legislative overseers of California residents have been writing and re-writing ordinances that require a full slate of protections from summer heat, especially for farm workers, the people who know best how to protect themselves on hot days.

Sure, work in the open in the Central Valley on a 100-plus degree day requires some common sense precautions. Farmers and farm workers have been applying those for decades. But the electorate has become so gullible and so dependent on air conditioning that it accepts the conclusion by the behavior engineers that ultimate comfort must be part of every workplace.

In 2005 California became the first state to pass a heat illness standard. The state’s Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA), operating within the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) announced that its enforcement experience and review of heat illnesses and fatalities showed that injuries and deaths might have been avoided if employees were better hydrated, took advantage of more cool-down breaks, been acclimatized or had received more timely emergency aid.

Not satisfied to issue that precautionary finding, Cal/OSHA immediately geared up to further inform, investigate, cite and fine employers who failed to carry out its newly created volume of regulations and restrictions. The rules have been tightened and the demands increased incrementally ever since.

Originally the requirements for shade, water and increased rest periods were triggered when the temperature reached 95 degrees. That eventually dropped to 85 degrees as farmer employers scurried to plan, make, borrow or buy some kind of shade and shelter structures.

Nearly all were mobile, towable covered trailers offering shade, comfortable seating, easy access, washing facilities and storage compartments for lunch boxes and personal effects.

Many growers opted for portable pop-up canopies, with seating, some with fans, always with large containers of cool water. One of Cal/OSHA’s most recent docket of demands states that water specified as potable must be fresh, pure, suitably cool, and provided to employees free of charge as close as practicable to where they are working.

A second stage regulation stated that the required water and shade demands had to be made available when temperatures reached 85 degrees, since revised to kick in at 80 degrees. Do-gooders, unionists and bureaucrats have chipped away gradually until the artificial protections have become ludicrous. The cost of government to staff up, patrol, cite offenders and conceive more stringent rules is enormous.

The hottest weather occurs at harvest time for many crops. It remains a tradition for many who grow them to adjust to the heat by beginning the work day earlier than usual and ending it by noon or shortly after.

If the demands in the heat standard and its imposing enforcement don’t come across as overkill, you might not have been outside on a recent warm day – 80 degrees is not that hot. In defense of the regulations and their enforcement, is their relation to people who are working normal work days in the temperatures specified, not lolling about by the pool.

Dozens of meetings and training sessions have been held to educate employers and employees, supervisors and foremen about the sun. As it shines the temperature increases, but big brother government is here to protect you. The shade be with you.