State shuts down farm company

Death of employee in heat investigated.

The Fresno BeeJuly 9, 2013 

A South Valley farming operation has been temporarily shut down by state officials investigating the suspected heat-related death of a 37-year-old farmworker.

The employee was working for the McFarland-based Etchegaray Farms LLC on Friday when he collapsed in 106 degrees. The worker, identified by the United Farm Workers union as Juan Ochoa, was checking irrigation equipment in a citrus orchard near Richgrove, east of Delano.

Erika Monterroza, spokeswoman for the California Department of Industrial Relations, said the investigation has uncovered several serious violations of the state's heat illness prevention rules, including no access to shade.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cal/OSHA ordered work to stop at Etchegaray Farms until the violations are fixed.

Along with no access to shade, Monterroza said, Etchegaray Farms did not have state-required procedures in place when temperatures reach 95 degrees. During periods of high heat, employers must provide effective communication with their workers through voice, cellphone or two-way radio. Employers also are obligated to observe workers for alertness and signs of heat illness.

"We found those high-heat procedures lacking, and that constituted an eminent hazard to the workers," Monterroza said. "And because it posed a serious risk, we took action."

Officials with Etchegaray Farms, which also has an office in Visalia, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Records show this incident is not the first time an employee of Etchegaray Farms has died on the job. In 2010, an employee was killed while working on a wind machine in a blueberry field. One of the blades from the machine fell, striking the worker in the head. No citations were issued in that case.

Friday's suspected heat-related death in farming is the third one this year being investigated by state officials.

On June 22, a 43-year-old nursery worker died in the Stanislaus County town of Hughson. And a 30-year-old farmworker died July 2 after harvesting watermelons in a field near Coalinga.

UFW officials, who have been critical of the state's enforcement of the heat illness regulations, said the workers' deaths are a tragedy.

"No one harvesting our food should die for lack of water or shade," said Arturo Rodriguez, UFW president. "Once again, the death of this farmworker appears to have been caused by neglect rather than ignorance."

Tuesday's high temperature in Fresno reached 107 by early evening, marking the 13th straight day with the high exceeding 100 degrees.

The forecast calls for a high of 103 today, 97 on Thursday and 98 Friday.

Cooling centers

FRESNO

Hours: Noon to 8 p.m.

Locations: Ted C. Wills Community Center, 770 N. San Pablo Ave.; Frank H. Ball Neighborhood Center, 760 Mayor Ave.; Mosqueda Community Center, 4670 E. Butler Ave.; and Pinedale Community Center, 7170 N. San Pablo Ave.

Splash parks: The free water-play areas are open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. except for Tuesdays, when maintenance is done. Then they are open from noon to 8 p.m. Locations: Dickey Park Playground, 50 N. Calaveras St.; Figarden Loop Park, 4265 W. Figarden Drive; Todd Beamer Neighborhood Park, 1890 E. Plymouth Way.

Swimming pools: The city says that when it's cooling centers are open, swimming is free at these pools: Airways, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.; and Mosqueda, Frank H. Ball and Mary Ella Brown, 1 to 5 p.m. Pools at Romain, Einstein, Quigley, Fink White and Pinedale are always free for recreational swimming and open from 1 to 5 p.m., the city says.

ELSEWHERE

Clovis: The city will direct people to Sierra Vista Mall, 1050 Shaw Ave., Clovis. The mall is open from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Transportation is available to cool zones through Clovis Stageline at (559) 324-2770 and Clovis Roundup at (559) 324-2760.

Coalinga: The city offers places to stay cool at City Hall, the library and the senior center during regular business hours. The Coalinga Police Department's front lobby at 270 N. Sixth St. and the Coalinga Fire Department at 300 W. Elm St. are available as cooling centers 24 hours a day.

Sanger: City will open its annex building from noon to 6 p.m. when temperatures reach 105. Elderly residents also can use the Sanger Senior Center from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Kings County: Plan for extreme heat includes directing people to the Hanford Mall and county library branches, among other places, when heat is too much to bear. Call (800) 649-5399 for details.

Hanford: Community cooling center at Longfield Center, 560 S. Douty St., open from 1 to 9 p.m.

Madera: Pan Am Community Center, 703 E. Sherwood Way, Madera, (559) 675-2095. Open weekdays 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Madera Rescue Mission, 332 Elm Ave., Madera, (559) 675-8321, open on an "as needed" basis.

Yosemite Lakes Park: Clubhouse, 30250 Yosemite Springs Parkway, Coarsegold, (559) 658-7466, Daily 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Visalia: City will open its transit center at 425 E. Oak Ave. from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call (559) 713-4266 for details.

Tulare County: For a list of cooling centers in other Tulare County communities, go to fblinks.com/cool

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, brodriguez@fresnobee.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.

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