US Department of Labor cites Wauchula labor contractor after 35-year-old farmworker suffers fatal heat illness
DUETTE, FL – A federal workplace safety investigation has found a 35-year-old farmworker died from heat illness on a Duette farm in the early evening of April 5, 2022. It was only his second day on the job.
Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration learned the employee of Citrus Harvesting Inc. was harvesting strawberries at 5:45 p.m. when others observed the worker showing signs of disorientation. The worker became unresponsive and later perished after a co-worker took them to a housing unit. Temperatures that day rose to 89 degrees Fahrenheit.
OSHA cited the Wauchula farm labor contractor for two serious violations for exposing workers to hazards associated with high ambient heat and failing to ensure workers were adequately trained on first aid.
Citrus Harvesting did not maintain an effective heat illness prevention plan and neglected to develop a work and rest schedule based on environmental conditions. A work and rest schedule assists new hires in becoming acclimated to working in the heat.
The contractor faces $29,004 in proposed penalties.
“Citrus Harvesting Inc. failed to take reasonable steps to ensure employees assigned to work outdoors in hot temperatures are taking frequent rest and water breaks,” said OSHA Area Office Director Danelle Jindra in Tampa, Florida. “An effective heat illness prevention plan could have prevented this tragedy.”
In September 2021, the department announced enhanced and expanded measures to protect workers from the hazards of extreme heat, indoors and out. OSHA is currently engaged in the federal rulemaking process to consider a heat-specific workplace standard to more effectively protect employees from hazardous heat.
OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention campaign educates employers and workers on the dangers of heat in the workplace and offers resources to recognize and reduce its hazards.
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.