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Farmworker Collapses in Heat, Dies

From Associated Press

The second San Joaquin Valley farmworker in a year has died of heat exposure in triple-digit temperatures, sparking renewed calls from labor leaders for worker safety regulations in extreme heat.

Witnesses said Salud Zamudio Rodriguez, 42, was picking bell peppers in Arvin, Calif., south of Bakersfield, in 105-degree heat Wednesday when he complained of feeling ill, according to Lupe Martinez, a vice president of United Farm Workers of America.

Rodriguez began to shudder, collapsed and was taken to Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, where he died an hour later, Martinez said. The Kern County coroner’s office attributed his death to heat exposure.

Last year, Asuncion Valdivia, 53, died of heat stroke July 28 after collapsing in a grape field near Bakersfield.

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Rodriguez died as a worker safety bill is being considered by the state Legislature.

AB 805, which is tied up in the Senate Appropriations Committee, would require the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to adopt regulations to prevent heat illness among workers, including requiring employers to provide adequate breaks and access to shade, and to train managers to spot and help workers suffering from heat exhaustion.

The push for new heat regulations began in 1990 after a farmworker who had crawled under a trailer to escape the sun was run over.

“We’re asking our politicians to pass this bill so this doesn’t happen again,” Martinez said.

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“We know it has been hot out there,” said Dean Fryer, a spokesman for Cal/OSHA. “There’s definitely concern for workers who are outdoors in agriculture or construction.”

Cal/OSHA keeps records of heat-related deaths in the most productive fields -- but only in years in which there are three or more deaths. In 2002, the last year for which information was available, three workers died because of the heat, records show.

Cal/OSHA has launched an investigation into Rodriguez’s death, Fryer said. Rodriguez was living in Lamont but had a wife and four children in Mexico, Martinez said.


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