California educators dispense heat safety information

STOCKTON -- The state superintendent of schools has joined the campaign against heat-related illness among farmworkers, offering educational resources to help spread the word among families about safely working outdoors.

Jack O'Connell announced Thursday that educators with the state's migrant education program, which serves about 300,000 children statewide, will distribute information to families about laws that protect farmworkers and tips on avoiding sickness while working in the heat.

Since the May death of a 17-year-old worker in a field east of Stockton, state labor officials have ramped up efforts to protect laborers from heat-related illnesses and hold employers accountable.

Labor officials have confirmed one other heat-related death, that of a 27-year-old oil field worker, since May and are investigating several others.

O'Connell said it is time educators do their part to help keep families healthy.

"That's in the best interest of our children, our families and our state," he said Thursday during a news conference with officials from the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency in Stockton.

Counseling, tutoring offered

The state's migrant education program serves children who have moved at least once in the previous six months because of their parents' changing agricultural work.

The program offers services such as counseling and tutoring and helps connect children with emergency dental care if needed. Educators in the migrant program will hand out heat safety information during health fairs, parent meetings and summer school classes.

Margaret Salazar-Huerta, assistant director of migrant education for the San Joaquin County Office of Education, grew up working the fields, planting onions when she was just 4 years old and continuing until she was in high school.

"I know exactly the conditions they live with because I lived them. My parents lived them," Salazar-Huerta said. "I can relate to these parents."

She remembers working in triple-degree heat that she likened to a sauna.

"That's one feeling I don't want to wish upon anyone," she said.

Victoria Bradshaw, secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, said farmworkers need to make sure employers provide proper training to prepare for oppressive temperatures. And for any employers not following state laws protecting workers in the heat, she issued a strong warning: "We will shut you down."