It is almost impossible to prepare for all the safety hazards you will face as a farmworker in the San Diego area. While you might take the necessary precautions to prevent equipment injuries and you know to stay out of the sun to avoid heat illness, several environmental hazards could cause long-term or even life-threatening occupational diseases. Unfortunately, many employers in the agriculture industry fail to inform workers of the less obvious risks of their jobs.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health mandates that employers must provide safety training and personal protective equipment for all the known hazards that could come your way. If you do not receive the necessary safety training and PPE, you might benefit from looking out for yourself. Take note that many environmental dangers can cause illnesses that only become obvious after years of exposure.
Along with the known heat-illness related dangers posed by the sun, the dangerous rays cause about 450,000 new cases of cancer nationwide each year. As you work in the fields, on the tractor or elsewhere in the sun, the back of your neck and other exposed skin are most susceptible. The following types of skin cancer are common among farmworkers:
- Malignant melanoma: Although the least common, this type of cancer is most deadly but curable if diagnosed and treated in the early stages. Small mole-like growths that get bigger and change color are telltale signs of this dangerous type of cancer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: When you develop a small red, scaly nodule, keep a close watch on it and see your physician at the first signs of it spreading. It can spread rapidly but is seldom life-threatening.
- Basal cell carcinoma: This is the most common form of skin cancer among farmworkers that presents as small, pearly, shiny nodules that sometimes ulcerate and form crusts. It rarely spreads, but the damage happens when it destroys underlying tissue as it spreads inward.
Other hidden hazards of your job
Although the cancer risk could be most concerning, several other hidden dangers pose risks to your health every day. Here are some of them:
- Respiratory damage: Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome and Farmers’ Lung are common consequences of breathing in organic dust and the moldy dust from grain. You could also suffer eye and lung irritations, drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, and even death from exposure to various gases like hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, ammonia and more.
- Skin disorders: Typical skin disorders you might suffer include dermatitis from contact with irritants and allergic reactions to substances and insects.
- Noise hazards: Prolonged exposure to noise levels that exceed 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss. Typical sources of excessive noise in your daily activities include tractors, chainsaws, combines, choppers and more.
Do you know your rights to protection against occupational hazards? If you suffer the consequences of any of these conditions, you are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. However, many of these conditions are progressive, and by the time you are diagnosed with cancer, hearing loss or another work-related illness, it can be years after exposure. How would you prove that your disease is work-related?
Fortunately, you are free to utilize the skills of an attorney with experience in fighting for the rights of California workers. A lawyer can take over and navigate your claim in pursuit of maximum benefits under applicable state laws.