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Vineyards Need to Prepare Workers for Heat

CalOSHA advisories mean increased risk regardless of drought status

by Jane Firstenfeld
Outdoor agricultural workers are encouraged to drink water every 15 minutes during summer months, whether they are thirsty or not. Source: CalOSHA
Oakland, Calif.—With prospects looming for a long, hot summer, vineyard owners and managers should ensure that safety measures are in place to avoid heat-related illnesses among field workers.

Responding to an expected heat spike during the first week of May, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) issued the first High Heat Advisory of 2014. Temperatures were expected to be 15° to 25° higher than normal throughout California.

Despite the ongoing drought, the state coordinator for heat enforcement Bill Krycia told Wines & Vines, “I don’t know that being a drought year increases risk to employees.” During periods of extreme heat, he said, CalOSHA recommends that workers “in all industries” consume 1 quart of water per hour.

Already addressing complaints
Although unwilling to cite specifics, Krycia acknowledged that his department already has received some complaints this year, as it did in 2013. “I can’t address the complaint process,” he said. “We take all complaints very seriously.”

The standards for employee protection have remained the same as when they were established in 2010, and employers should be prepared to implement them when the need arises.

Staff training is a vital component of maintaining vineyard safety. “I recommend as best practice to conduct tailgate meetings regularly and routinely,” Krycia said. “Employers should have short, regular meetings. Especially with extreme conditions: Remind employees to drink small quantities of water throughout the workday.” Such meetings should begin “now—or earlier” to ensure worker safety, Krycia said.

The death of a pregnant vineyard worker in a Northern California vineyard during May 2008 called special attention to the need for employees to become acclimated to extreme heat conditions—and the necessity for supervisors to know and maintain safety practices.

Educational resources
Employers can use CalOSHA resources to develop and implement a heat safety plan for their companies. Consult the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website regularly to predict upcoming heat events and plan ahead for worker safety.

Employers who are uncertain about their safety procedures may avail themselves of CalOSHA’s consultation program. This free service, Krycia said, “does not write tickets. It can help develop a basic heat illness plan” for any business. CalOSHA does inspect worksites to determine their safety throughout the year.

CalOSHA’s “99Calor” campaign offers information including downloadable wall graphics in Spanish, Punjabi and Hmong to assist non-English speakers.

Basic requirements for heat-illness prevention are boiled down to four main points. Employers must:

• Train all employees and supervisors

• Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least 1 quart per hour, and encourage them to do so.

• Provide access to shade and encourage employees to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes. Workers should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.

• Develop and implement written procedures for complying with the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard.

Training seminars in English and Spanish are scheduled in Fresno (May 14), Salinas (May 15) and Napa (May 21). For details and registration, email

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