Labor Contractor Cited After Farmworker Suffers Fatal Illness in Heat

Guerrero Ag workers were exposed to high ambient heat — and did not receive required first-aid training.

U.S. Department of Labor
Thermometer indicating high heat.
Thermometer indicating high heat.
iStock

ARCADIA, Fla. – A federal workplace safety investigation found a Florida labor contractor could have prevented the fatal illness of a 41-year-old worker who collapsed while harvesting oranges at Alico Farms in December 2023 by taking required steps to protect employees from hazards associated with high temperatures.

Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration learned the worker employed by Guerero Ag had difficulty talking and appeared disoriented before becoming unresponsive and collapsing — symptoms consistent with a person suffering from heat stroke. Sadly, the worker died three days later in intensive care. OSHA determined the heat index reached approximately 92 degrees the day of the incident.

OSHA cited Guerrero Ag for two serious violations for exposing workers to hazards associated with high ambient heat, on three separate days, and not providing first-aid training to employees working in an area without an infirmary, clinic or hospital. The agency also cited the Arcadia-based labor contractor for failing to report a work-related hospitalization within 24 hours, and subsequently the fatality within 8 hours, as required by law. Guerero Ag LLC faces $30,651 in proposed penalties.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of their citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

In September 2021, the department announced enhanced and expanded measures to protect workers from the hazards of extreme heat.

OSHA has developed a potential standard for workplaces to prevent heat illness and injury in work environments in general industry, construction, maritime and agriculture. The agency also took an important step in addressing the dangers of workplace heat and moved closer to publishing a proposed rule to reduce the significant health risks of heat exposure for U.S. workers in outdoor and indoor settings.

In April 2023, OSHA presented the draft rule’s initial regulatory framework to the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. The committee unanimously recommended OSHA move forward swiftly on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The initial regulatory framework materials from the meeting are available in a docket on regulations.gov. Updates on the rulemaking process will be provided on OSHA’s heat rulemaking web page. OSHA concluded the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act process on Nov. 3, 2023. On June 11, 2024, the agency submitted its draft standard on heat injury and illness prevention to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of the Information and Regulatory Affairs for review.

Meanwhile, OSHA will continue to conduct heat-related inspections under the agency’s National Emphasis Program – Outdoor and Indoor Heat-Related Hazards, focusing enforcement on workplaces with the highest exposures to heat-related hazards proactively to prevent workers from needless suffering injury, illnesses, or death. Since the launch in 2022, OSHA has conducted nearly 5,000 federal heat-related inspections.

OSHA continues to direct significant existing outreach and enforcement resources to educate employers and workers and hold businesses accountable for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty clause and other applicable regulations.

In addition, OSHA will prioritize programmed inspections in agricultural industries that employ temporary, nonimmigrant H-2A workers for seasonal labor. These workers face unique vulnerabilities, including potential language barriers, less control over their living and working conditions, and possible lack of acclimatization, and are at high risk of hazardous heat exposure.

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