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High heat threatens outdoor workers in Inland Empire, Coachella Valley

Think it’s hot where you live? Imagine working in Coachella.

No, not the music festival, but the city known for its agriculture in eastern Riverside County.

Temperatures there are brutal, as even during the morning hours, triple digits in the summer are common.

Guadalupe Garcia, who works picking produce, said she tries escaping the hottest part of the day.

“We start at 3 in the morning and finish at 10:30,” she said in Spanish. “I have to work because I have to support my family.”

There are about 800,000 farmworkers in California, a state that produces more than a third of the county’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruit and nuts.

But as temperatures continue to rise year after year, farmworkers are suffering, said Feliciana Gonzalez, who works with TODEC Legal Center, an organization that provides outreach and legal support to vulnerable communities in the Inland Empire and Coachella Valley.

“The most recent call I received was a farmworker that was feeling bad and that they didn’t have shade,” Gonzalez said. “The water was far away, it was like 10 minutes away from where they were actually working, so it was hard for them to go where the water and shade was. So she almost fainted, and she was getting dehydrated.”

Cal/OSHA adopted heat-related illness prevention regulations in 2006, and as part of that, employers must provide water, shade and rest to outdoor workers.

“The employer not only has to provide water but has to encourage the drinking of water,” said David Hornung of Cal/OSHA. “Its got to be suitably cool and it’s got to be located as close as is practicable … We are going to be out this weekend and next week performing heat sweeps or high-heat inspections looking for employers that may not be complying with our regulation.”

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