The fertile earth of California’s Central Valley is known for springing forth a bounty of produce. Its soil is also known to contain harmful spores that cause Valley fever, a fungal infection that has flu-like symptoms. Work-related cases of Valley fever at solar installation plants, excavation sites, and during other construction activities in the Central Valley are spurring prevention efforts statewide with the help from Cal/OSHA.
The state department of labor is now adding Valley fever control measures for construction. Employers must offer initial worker training for Valley fever areas by May 1, 2020, and continue annually. Program requirements must include information about what Valley fever is and how it’s contracted, the risks that increase the chance of being infected, reporting exposure and symptoms, ways to limit dust disturbance, and other risk mitigation tactics.
“When soil is disturbed by activities such as digging, driving, or high winds, Valley Fever spores can become airborne and potentially be inhaled,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “Without the proper training, protection, and mitigation procedures, workers are likely to be exposed and get sick.”
Safety with Soil Disturbance Activities
In 2017, there were 14,364 cases of Valley fever reported to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2017, Cal/OSHA has cited 12 businesses for work-related Valley fever. In 2008, contractor Glenn Bugler was among several who were involved in an excavation project that inhaled the spores and developed the disease. “I started running out of breath and feeling feverish, so I went to my doctor,” he said. Bulger is part of the California Department of Public Health’s campaign to prevent worker exposure to Valley Fever through free training materials.
As with any hazardous dust, there are several ways to minimize worker exposure when working in soil disturbance activities. Here are several ways to control dust exposure:
- Limit dust: Use water to wet the soil before and during excavations and trenching. Cover dirt piles with vegetation or a cover, such as a tarp. Try to stay upwind during disturbance work.
- Protect and control: Use digging equipment that has an enclosed cab. Provide and ensure the use of respirators as part of personal protective equipment requirements. Make sure eyewash stations are available and ready on the job site. Reinforce dust control safety messages by using signs and labels. Remind workers to clean their shoes and other items exposed to dust before they take them home.
Employers can provide Valley fever training as part of ongoing safety efforts. Preventive maintenance also helps to limit hazard creation in construction. Employers can easily spot problems before they become hazards with daily walk-around inspections, risk assessments, hazard controls, and PPE. Improve communication and safety on the job site by using free construction safety resources.