Bakersfield — Cal/OSHA has cited six employers $241,950 for workplace safety and health violations after reports that workers contracted Valley Fever on a solar project construction site in Monterey County.
The employers at the California Flats Solar Project in Cholame Hills were cited for serious violations that included failure to control employee exposure to contaminated dust at the worksite, and failure to provide and ensure use of appropriate respiratory protection. One employer, Papich Construction, Inc., was cited in 2013 for some of the same violations.
Valley Fever is caused by a microscopic fungus known as Coccidioides immitis, which lives in the top two to 12 inches of soil in many parts of the state. When soil is disturbed by digging, driving, or high winds, fungal spores can become airborne and may be inhaled by workers. While the fungal spores are more likely to be present in the soils of the Central Valley, they may also be present in other areas of California.
According to the CDC, many people who are exposed to the fungus Coccidioides never have symptoms. Other people may have flu-like symptoms that go usually away on their own after weeks to months. If your symptoms last for more than a week, contact your healthcare provider.
Symptoms of Valley fever include:
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- Rash on upper body or legs
In extremely rare cases, the fungal spores can enter the skin through a cut, wound, or splinter and cause a skin infection.
Cal/OSHA’s Valley Fever informational page provides detailed information with resources for workers and employers.
Tips for reducing the risk of Valley Fever exposure include:
- Determine if a worksite is in an area where fungal spores are likely to be present.
- Adopt site plans and work practices that minimize the disturbance of soil and maximize ground cover.
- Use water, appropriate soil stabilizers, and/or re-vegetation to reduce airborne dust.
- Limit workers’ exposure to outdoor dust in disease-endemic areas by (1) providing air-conditioned cabs for vehicles that generate dust and making sure workers keep windows and vents closed, (2) suspending work during heavy winds, and (3) providing sleeping quarters, if applicable, away from sources of dust.
- When exposure to dust is unavoidable, provide approved respiratory protection to filter particles.
- Train supervisors and workers in how to recognize symptoms of Valley Fever and minimize exposure.