On Heels of State’s Worst Wildfire Season, Bill Would Ensure Access to N95 Masks
SACRAMENTO – Today, Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) announced his introduction of Assembly Bill 73, the Farmworker Wildfire Smoke Protections Act. Coming on the heels of the worst wildfire season in California’s history, this legislation will ensure the State’s farm and other agricultural workers will be better educated and protected against the severe health impacts of wildfire smoke— including by creating a dedicated stockpile of N95 masks.
“The tragic and hazardous wildfires we experienced this year have introduced another public health crisis for our most vulnerable class of essential workers: wildfire smoke,” said Asm. Rivas. “Breathing toxic smoke has been linked to increased rates of chronic heart and respiratory diseases, and without adequate protections, our farmworkers risk lifelong debilitating illnesses. AB 73 will establish a dedicated stockpile of N95 respirators for our farmworkers and will deploy Cal/OSHA strike teams to ensure every worker has access to these masks.”
AB 73, which is Asm. Rivas’s first bill since becoming Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, is joint-authored by Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), and Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella). Drafted in consultation with both industry and worker advocates, the bill has broad support from across the State; Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), Luz Rivas (D-Arleta), Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), and Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) have all signed-on as initial co-authors.
“During wildfires, farmworkers put their lives on the line to make sure we all have food to put on the table. This work is more dangerous than ever as climate change causes the worst fires in this state’s history,” said Asm. Gonzalez. “It’s crucial we pass this commonsense measure to ensure these essential workers, who are the backbone of our agricultural industry, have the resources and equipment they need to protect their health.”
Specifically, AB 73:
● requires the Department of Industrial Relations, in coordination with other state agencies, to establish a stockpile of N95 masks that can be distributed to farmers during a wildfire outbreak;
● requires immediate deployment of specialized strike teams from each Cal/OSHA regional office during major unhealthy air quality events;
● requires Cal/OSHA to develop and distribute information on wildfire safety to agricultural employees in Spanish and English and also via pictograms.
“As we continue the fight to expand protections for essential workers who have been among the hardest-hit communities during this pandemic, we also must anticipate competing public health crises, like the destructive wildfires that continue to ravage our state,” said Asm. Kalra. “I stand proudly alongside Assemblymember Rivas and our colleagues in doing all we can to support our farmworkers, who remain on the frontline to provide critical services that our communities rely on.”
“Our farmworkers have been facing double jeopardy, working in perilous conditions amid blazing wildfires and a global pandemic to keep our grocery stores stocked and food on our dining tables,” said Asm. Eduardo Garcia. “With this measure, Assemblymember Rivas and I will continue to strengthen our series of legislative protections for agricultural workers and safeguard the health of these vulnerable communities from smoke inhalation.”