California passes law protecting farm workers from fire smoke

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday signed a bill to reduce the exposure of farm workers to smoke from wildfires by allowing them access to the state’s stock of N95 masks.

Assembly Bill 73, authored by Assembly Member Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, also known as Farm Worker Forest Fire Smoke Protection Act, would designate farm workers as “essential workers” to allow them access to the California Department of Public Health’s stockpile of personal protective equipment, including masks.

“California holds businesses accountable and recognizes the dignity and humanity of our workers, who have helped build the world’s fifth-largest economy,” Newsom said in a statement after signing numerous safety bills in the country. job. “These measures protect marginalized low-wage workers, many of whom are women of color and immigrants, by ensuring that they are paid what they are owed and by improving working conditions. We are committed to supporting them as we work to build a stronger and more inclusive economy. “

The bill would also task Cal-OSHA to send a “Forest Fire Response Team” to investigate forest fire smoke protection requirements on farm sites when quality standards are met. air reach dangerous levels. Under the bill, Cal-OSHA is required to distribute forest fire safety guidelines to farm workers in English and Spanish.

A similar bill was introduced last year by State Senator Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, to allow healthcare workers and other essential workers access to the stockpile of N95 masks from the ‘State in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our state is once again experiencing a catastrophic wildfire season and continues to fight COVID-19. While many of us have had the privilege of working from home, our farm laborers have not been so lucky – instead, they continue to work in the smoky fields to feed the nation and support an industry of many. billion dollars, ”Rivas said in a statement.

California employs around 800,000 farm workers, according to a to study published by the Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. The state’s agricultural industry generates revenues estimated at $ 50 billion per year.

The bill was supported by the California Latino Legislative Caucus, which said it was essential to increase the protection of agricultural workers in the workplace against poor air quality caused by forest fires in California.

A 2020 study conducted by the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at UC Davis find her Rise in severe wildfires in the state have posed serious health risks for California farm workers exposed to ashes. The researchers recommended that policymakers pay special attention to “health risks for farm workers working in areas recovering from forest fires and / or in areas where forest fires are repeated”.

Help us cover the issues that matter most to you through The Sacramento Bee’s partnership with Report for America. Contribute now to support Kim Bojórquez’s coverage of Latino issues in California for the Capitol Bureau – and to fund new journalists.

This story was originally published September 27, 2021 3:58 pm.

Kim Bojórquez joined the Capitol Bureau of the Sacramento Bee as a member of the Report for America body in 2020. She covers Latin American communities in California. Before joining The Bee, she worked for Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

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