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Agricultural Worker Health Project

A Project of California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF)

Generous funding provided by The California Endowment
Protecting Farm Worker Health And Safety

Quick Links: Discrimination | Heat Illness | Housing | Machine Safety | Pesticides | Rest and Meal Breaks | Safe Drinking Water | Sexual Harassment and Discrimination | Short-handed Tools and Handweeding | Transportation | Water and Bathrooms in the Fields | Other Issues

California’s 900,000 farm workers are the engine that pulls the state’s successful $27 billion dollar a year agricultural economy. California agriculture feeds the United States and many parts of the world. But despite their driving force, farm workers are among the lowest paid and most exploited workers in our economy. Federal and state government officials consistently rank farm work among the three most dangerous occupations. The average life expectancy and active work life for farm workers are significantly lower than in other professions. Serious health conditions such as respiratory disorders, dermatitis, chronic pain associated with muscle and skeletal damage, and symptoms of pesticide exposure are linked directly to the grueling demands of farm labor.

Men, women and sometimes children, toil 10 or more hours daily in the hot sun, often with little drinking water or proper sanitation facilities. Their work involves repeated bending, heavy lifting, and regular exposure to natural and chemical skin and respiratory irritants, and other dangerous conditions. Each year, farm workers needlessly die or are disabled from heat stress, chemical exposure, unsafe transportation, and farm machine accidents.

Countless farm workers leave the fields at the end of the workday headed for makeshift housing where they face abysmal conditions that threaten their lives, health and safety, and risk further pesticide exposure through drift and water contamination. They live in remote and unsafe labor camps in agricultural areas or they must commute to towns and compete for crowded housing, often without adequate heating facilities, basic weatherproofing, or plumbing. Farm workers and their families regularly are exposed to unsafe and unsanitary conditions such as mold, raw sewage, unsafe drinking water, lack of sanitation facilities, poor ventilation, and vermin.

Few farm workers have health insurance or sufficient access to health care. As a result, most farm workers never receive adequate medical treatment for themselves and their children. For many who do receive treatment, often it is only after a long delay that has further worsened their condition. Farm workers injured on the job have a justifiable fear in reporting the injury. Many employers retaliate against farm workers who are injured, who report injuries, or who seek medical treatment for their injuries. Farm workers lack information about their rights, and language access issues and immigration-related fears combine to create huge barriers which must be overcome to create safer and healthier farm workers and farm worker communities.

Farm workers in California continue to suffer from substandard working and living conditions despite state labor and housing laws. Non-compliance is rampant. Numerous state, federal and local agencies are responsible for enforcing farm worker protections, but frequently government agencies are understaffed, under-funded, and lack a clear vision to accomplish their missions. Expanded use of farm labor contractors has increased the number of violations of the law by creating a separation between the worker and employer. Many farm workers do not know on whose farm they are working, and many growers claim to be unaware of the violations of farm labor contractors.

AWHP is a Project of CRLA and CRLAF

California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF) have joined forces to create the Agricultural Worker Health Project (AWHP). Our goal is to eliminate dangerous working and living conditions faced by farm workers. Each year we assist tens of thousands of farm workers through coordinated outreach and community education campaigns and leadership development. We work to ensure that growers comply with laws meant to protect and promote farm worker health and safety, by negotiating directly with growers, reporting growers to appropriate enforcement agencies, and by bringing legal action against recalcitrant growers in administrative hearings or the courts. Led largely by CRLAF, we identify gaps in existing law and policy that endanger farm workers, and we formulate and implement creative remedies to these dangers.

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