BIAW Kills Proposed Rule that Drinking Water be Available at all Times for Farm Workers

The Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), according to KPLU, is bragging how they stopped an emergency rule that required that ” drinking water be available at all times” for farm workers and other outdoor workers. The proposed rule also would have required a shaded rest area and education efforts for workers and supervisors about the danger of heat stress.

My wife last night mentioned that she had heard the story on KPLU and this morning I went to their website and listened to it. I am just as appalled as she was in listening to it. Click here to listen to the broadcast “Heat Stress: The Politics Behind State Rule-Making”

BIAW Human Resources Analyst Amy Brackenbury in the KPLU newscast indignantly retorts, “Are you serious with this? Another, you know, this is just another thing that we are going to have to do. This is very frustrating.”

Oh how horrible it is, how frustrating it is that people sweat in the sun, harvesting crops, so we can have food to eat and they need to drink water. What is the matter with these people? Drink water? Isn’t it enough that we let them work for us?

Well what are the consequences of not providing water? Like maybe death? KPLU reports that last summer a 64 year old farm worker died from heat stress in Washington State. No drinking water was available. Four deaths were also reported last year in California, including a Kern County, California farm worker. And many workers can suffer heat related illnesses that do not result in death but still are serious.

Unless the BIAW doesn’t read what it links to on its own website, it should be well aware of the dangers.The BIAW links to the “Heat Stress” information page of the Washington State Bureau of Labor and Industries .

In an EPA document on that page entitled “Heat Stress in Agriculture” it says that

“High air temperatures and humidities put agricultural workers at special risk of heat illness. Worker Compensation claims for heat illness among agricultural workers are among the highest of any occupation. …

Heat stress is the buildup in the body of heat generated by the muscles during work and of heat coming from warm and hot environments. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke result when the body is subjected to more heat than it can cope with.

When the body becomes overheated, less blood goes to the active muscles, the brain, and other internal organs. Workers get weaker, become tired sooner, and may be less alert, less able to use good judgment, and less able to do their jobs well.

As strain from heat becomes more severe, there can be a rapid rise in body temperature and heart rate. Workers may not realize that this is happening because there is no pain. Mental performance can be affected with an increase in body temperature of 2oF above normal. An increase of 5oF can result in serious illness or death.

The most serious illness is heat stroke. Its effects can include confusion, irrational behavior, convulsions, coma, and even death. Heat stroke can make survivors very sensitive to heat for months and cause varying degrees of brain and kidney damage. More than 20 percent of people afflicted by heat stroke die, even young and healthy adults. An average of nearly 500 people are killed each year in the United States by the effects of heat.

During hot weather, heat illness may be an underlying cause of other types of injuries, such as heart attacks on the job, falls, and equipment accidents arising from poor judgment.
What do workers need in terms of water? The AgSafeWorker on the same “heat stress” page says:

Research in sports, exercise, military and some industrial settings has yielded lessons about heat stress that are very applicable but not widely understood or easily applied in agricultural workplaces.Not surprisingly, the single measure that these studies suggest as most important for reducing risks of heat stress is to steadily replenish the fluid that the body loses as sweat. Because thirst is a late signal of a water deficit, drinking based on what we know is a safer strategy than drinking based on what we feel. Chugging to quench an intense thirst is no more timely than pouring water on a wilted plant.

The amount of water needed to replace sweat loss is a function of workload, weather, and personal physical attributes. A military guideline recommends drinking one quart per hour when performing hard work and wearing protective gear in 90+ degree temperatures and resting for 50 minutes per hour!
For moderate work in temperatures of 82-90 degrees, the standard is about 3/4 quart and only 20 minutes of rest per hour. Of course, few if any businesses can afford to follow those rest guidelines, but all can strive to help workers meet the fluid replenishment advice.

Washington’s current regulation covering farmworkers and heat stress was written over 33 years ago. It is printed below:

WAC 296-62-09013 Temperature, radiant heat, or temperature-humidity combinations.(1) Workmen subjected to temperature extremes, radiant heat, humidity, or air velocity combinations which, over a period of time, are likely to produce physiological responses which are harmful shall be afforded protection by use of adequate controls, methods or procedures, or protective clothing. This shall not be construed to apply to normal occupations under atmospheric conditions which may be expected in the area except that special provisions which are required by other regulations for certain areas or occupations shall prevail.[Order 73-3, 296-62-09013, filed 5/7/73.]

I highlighted the second sentence because one could easily interpret the second sentence as voiding the weak first sentence because farming is a “normal occupation in Yakima and it is usually hot in the summer” so there is no need for regulation.

At the request of the United Farm workers, the Department of Labor and Industries was asked to implement an emergency rule to help protect farmworkers from heat related illnesses and death. California, after four deaths of farmworkers last year, put just such an emergency
regulation in effect at the request of Governor Schwarzenegger.

United Farmworkers proposed that Washington State implement a similar three part rule: to prevent heat stroke and other heat stress illness:

1. Make drinking water available at all times.
2. Provide a shaded rest area.
3. Educate employers and employees about the dangers of heat stress.

Labor and industries started the review process to put in place a new rule.

In the truest sense of showing concern for farmworkers, Amy Brackenbury of the BIAW showed the BIAW’s keen sense of compassion and concern for fellow human beings by opposing the rule change. ON KPLU she responded, “We made it very clear from the very beginning. If Labor and Industries continued down this track they were headed, we would challenge it in court. If not successful there, we, you know, would take it to the people like we did with the ergonomics rule several years ago.”

Labor and Industry, like true cowards, cowered by the mighty BIAW, caved in. Who needs water anyway? They have keep the present rule as is, supposedly made some change in a rule for indoor workers and decided to push education.

Meanwhile I heard the BIAW has removed all drinking water access from their organization’s building in Olympia, saying that if its good enough for the farm workers, its good enough for them. Employees are responsible for bringing their own water. They are strictly monitored for any abuses. They said it was a show of their solidarity for the farmworkers.

Meanwhile in the real world The United Farm Workers are continuing their campaign for farm worker water and shade requirements and urge that Gary Weeks, the Director of Labor and Industry, not accept the final rule modification adopted but instead implement the earlier proposed rule, specifically requiring water and shade be available for all workers. By clicking here you can go to the United Farm Workers Action page and send an e-mail to Labor and Industry asking whether they are a tool of the BIAW or if they represent workers in this state.

The BIAW is the same BIAW that in the last several elections has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into its PAC’s to skirt campaign finance laws limiting direct contributions to candidates. Their candidates receiving this so called “independent”‘ support have include Rob McKenna in his race for Washington State Attorney General and two Supreme Court Justices – Justice Jim Johnson and Saunders.

On election night the BIAW reported in its own newsletter that McKenna had called them and said “if it were not for the BIAW I wouldn’t have been elected.” The BIAW had spent some $275,000 on 1200 TV ads attacking McKenna’s opponent.

The BIAW gave some $100,000 directly to Jim Johnson’s race for Washington State Supreme Court in 2004. The Washington State Legislature this year passed legislation limiting such direct contributions in the future to Supreme Court Justices. This year the BIAW is planning to do like it did with McKenna and spend the money on it’s own as it works to elect more BIAW type Supreme Court Justices. I wonder if their candidates will agree with the BIAW that farmworkers don’t need water or shade?

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