Ag Today December 11, 2017

Farm hands worked in Ventura County despite Thomas Fire smoke


As the Thomas Fire raged in Ventura County and smoke thickened the air in the past week, some farm workers continued to toil in local fields without face protection, according to field worker advocates.

State regulations do not explicitly require that employers equip farm workers with masks and other protective equipment, although they are advised to consider doing so.

Smoke from the fire that sparked a week ago and scorched about 200,000 acresdrifted over a large swath of Ventura County. Officials have warned people in the fire areas to avoid the acrid smoke, which poses health hazards to anyone breathing in the polluted air.

But even as the smoke covered affected agricultural fields, farm worker advocates say some field hands continued to work unprotected.

“We confirmed that there were workers out picking strawberries and cabbage in local fields in Oxnard, and some of them did not have face masks,” said Yajaira Valdovinos, an attorney with the Oxnard office of California Rural Legal Assistance, a legal nonprofit serving low-income communities.

Some of the workers used bandanas in an attempt to filter out the smoke, she said, but state health officials say these do not offer sufficient protection. They recommend N95 or P100 particular respirator masks as the most effective lung protection for people exposed to the wildfire smoke.

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