Valley Fever Legislation Protecting Workers Signed Into Law
SACRAMENTO – Last evening, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law legislation authored by Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) to strengthen protections from valley fever and to improve education among workers in endemic areas. Specifically, Assembly Bill (AB) 203 requires construction employers in highly endemic counties to provide effective valley fever awareness and prevention training to employees.
“Workers who get valley fever often don’t know that they are infected until the symptoms become too hard to ignore and then they end up in the hospital, unable to work,” said Assemblymember Salas. “But if we can make sure that employers and workers are using the best methods of prevention, and make sure that they can identify the symptoms to get diagnosed and treated early, it makes all the difference in terms of improving health outcomes for vulnerable workers.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 75 percent of people with valley fever miss work or school, as many 40 percent of people who get valley fever are hospitalized, and the average cost of a hospital stay for a person with Valley Fever is estimated to be nearly $50,000. Moreover, in a study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases in 2018 that looks at valley fever outbreaks from 1940 to 2015, it was found that more than half of the total outbreaks were associated with occupational exposure.
The CDC studied one of these occupational outbreaks of valley fever among at least 44 workers constructing two solar power farms in San Luis Obispo County between 2011 and 2014. The study concluded that “unless awareness is emphasized and effective prevention measures are implemented, additional construction in [Valley Fever]-endemic areas…will probably expose workers to [Valley Fever], thus leading to additional infections.”
In 2016, another outbreak occurred during the construction of a solar farm in Monterey County in which nine cases of laboratory-confirmed valley fever were discovered among solar farm employees. A subsequent study by the CDC determined that “[o]utdoor workers in these areas should be trained by employers about the potential for infection, how to limit dust exposure, how to recognize symptoms, where to seek care, and how to ask a health care provider to assess them for coccidioidomycosis.”
AB 203 requires construction employers in highly endemic counties – including Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, Monterey, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura – to provide awareness training to workers about valley fever prevention methods, recognizing symptoms, risk factors, and the importance of reporting symptoms to an employer and seeking medical attention. The bill passed through both houses with unanimous support. Employers will be required to begin providing the training by May 1, 2020.
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Assemblymember Salas represents part of the City of Bakersfield, the cities of Arvin, Avenal, Corcoran, Delano, Hanford, Lemoore, McFarland, Shafter, Wasco, and the communities of Armona, Buttonwillow, Home Garden, Kettleman City, Lamont, Lost Hills, Stratford and Weedpatch.