California farms produce a significant percentage of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, and about 90,000 farmworkers risk their health when planting, harvesting and packing the fresh produce. However, this year, most of them will face the fungicide season without masks due to the current nationwide shortage of respiratory protection. The risk is exacerbated by the fact that the fire season will follow soon.
Farmworkers need masks to protect them from breathing in field dust and pesticides that could cause serious respiratory illnesses and asthma. Masks also prevent the inhalation of smoke and ash when the annual fire season starts. Farmworkers say their only protection right now is bandannas, which they tie over their mouths and noses and around their necks.
This shortage of masks leaves farmers in a Catch 22 situation. According to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, employers must provide safe work environments and protect the health and safety of employees. They can choose to use less harmful, less effective pesticides to protect workers from developing respiratory illnesses. However, this will likely harm their bottom lines.
The California workers’ compensation insurance program covers victims of workplace injuries or illnesses. Affected farmworkers might be eligible for benefits that will cover their medical expenses. If they are unable to return to work for a while, lost wages will form a part of the benefits. The administrative and legal proceedings of the benefits claims process could be complicated, but an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can provide the necessary support and guidance along every step of the way.