As devastating wildfires ravage California, there is an urgency in efforts by authorities to protect employees. At the same time, there was an urgency in the efforts of farm owners to get crops off the fields to prevent smoke and suit damage. Labor unions expressed their concern for low-income construction workers, farmworkers and others who earn their incomes in the outdoors. Some of the workers on smaller farms might not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
Under California laws, employers must provide outdoor workers who are exposed to the hazards of wildfires with protective gear. Reportedly, deputies who helped with evacuating residents during the Woolsey and Hill fires were equipped with protective masks. However, thousands of the estimated 36,000 farmworkers were hard at work in the fields without any protection.
Union organizers who visited the farms say some farm owners reduced work hours and provided partial protective mask access. During this time, a health emergency was declared that led to the closure of schools and warnings for residents to remain indoors and keep windows closed. Those farmworkers who remained in the fields were exposed to hazardous particulate matter released by the raging wildfires.
Workers in California who suffered health problems that were caused by hazardous exposure might have questions about their eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits. Answers can be obtained from an attorney who is experienced in fighting for workers’ rights to fair compensation. A lawyer can assist with the navigation of benefits claims and work to obtain maximum benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages.