Employers in California, including those in Irvine and elsewhere in Orange County, are responsible for the health and safety of employees. That includes the duty to inform workers of potential health risks like Valley Fever. How much have you learned about it?
What is Valley Fever?
Coccidioides is the fungus that causes Valley Fever. It grows under the ground across most areas in California. Any jobs involving road repairs, moving equipment, trenching, digging and other groundwork that disturbs the soil expose you to Coccidioides. Even dust storms or wind can set the airborne fungus free.
How does the fungus affect you?
The risk involves breathing in the airborne spores of the fungus, which puts you at risk of getting Valley Fever. Although early diagnosis and prompt treatment are crucial, Valley Fever is often mistaken for common colds or the flu. If you disregard symptoms, one of two things will happen: either you will get over it and recover on your own, or you could become very sick and struggle for weeks or even months to recover — losing wages and gathering medical bills.
In a severe case, you could develop pneumonia and end up suffering lung damage. Another potentially life-threatening consequence is disseminated Valley Fever. When that happens, the illness has moved beyond the lungs to infect other organs.
Are you in a high-risk occupation?
Although anyone could breathe in airborne Coccidioides spores, construction and agriculture workers face the highest risks of ending up with Valley Fever. Safety authorities mandate your employer to include measures to control dust exposure. It is crucial to understand that the fungus could live as shallow as only two inches below the soil surface. Thus, exposure starts as soon as soil disturbance commences.
Steps your employer must take to protect your health
To comply with the safety standards prescribed by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, your employer must take at least the following preventative steps:
- Limit outdoor dust exposure by abandoning worksites during strong winds and dust storms.
- Provide you with a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health-approved respirator.
- Treat the soil with water, soil stabilizers and provide ventilation.
- Revegetate areas after completing jobs to limit the wind or other disturbances freeing fungus spores.
- Determine the smallest work area to limit volumes of soil disturbances.
- Seal the earth moving equipment cabs to prevent operators’ exposure.
- Isolate ground workers from areas where operating heavy equipment creates dust clouds.
- Monitor workers and arrange medical examinations for those showing common cold symptoms to ensure that Valley Fever victims receive timely treatment.
If you show any cold or flu-like symptoms after exposure to dust, do not wait for your employer to send you for testing. Make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible and tell the doctor about the dust exposure. The California workers’ compensation program will cover your medical expenses and lost wages. However, it will be up to you to report the condition to your employer as soon as possible. Do that, and your benefits claim will likely be filed within the allowed time limit