MOULTRIE, Ga. — A Colquitt County company whose worker died of an apparent heat-related illness in June while picking tomatoes has been fined nearly $13,000.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued its findings in an investigation sparked by the death on June 21 of Miguel Angel Guzman Chavez. It fined Beiza Brothers Harvesting, a labor contracting company that provided laborers to farmers, $12,934.
Chavez fell ill at about 4 p.m. that day while working at a farm in the county, according to Colquitt County Coroner Verlyn Brock. Chavez, 24, was taken to Colquitt Regional Medical Center, where he later died.
At the time Chavez got sick the temperature was greater than 90 degrees, Brock said. At the time, Chavez had been in the country less than a week, and had started work the day of his death at 8 a.m., Brock said.
In its findings, OSHA said that the workers were picking tomatoes in direct sunlight with temperatures ranging from 85.8 to 97.5 degrees and with a heat index as high as 99.1 degrees.
“Such exposure may lead to the development of serious heat-related illnesses such as, but not limited to, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death,” the agency said. “Among other methods, one feasible and acceptable means of abatement would be to institute a comprehensive heat program that includes an adequate acclimation program.”
OSHA issued three other citations related to failure to train employees about hazardous chemicals, but did not levy additional fines.
On its web site, OSHA said that Chavez was overexerted, showed symptoms of heat exhaustion and passed out before he was taken to the hospital.
Debbie Berkowitz, worker health and safety program director at National Employment Law Project, said the fine was a “big deal” and was a fairly significant amount that should get the attention of companies who employ farm workers. The company did not respond to OSHA during the investigation.