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Employer defense for confronting Valley Fever

A business owner may choose to have an employer defense prepared after learning about an apparent risk of worker injury or illness. The California Department of Public Health has reported an influx in Valley Fever recently, which may entice employers who have encountered the illness to seek help in preparing a strong employer defense. Valley Fever is caused by fungus that exists near the top level of the dirt and soil in certain areas of California. When the ground containing the fungus is disturbed, spores are released into the air and can cause illness to workers who inhale the spores.

Particular professions and industries are at a greater risk of exposure due to their work in outside areas where it is dusty, or the soil is disturbed. Firefighters, construction workers, geologists and those who work in agriculture or in the oil and gas field may be at a higher risk for developing Valley Fever than other industries. California OSHA has reportedly continued to make efforts in protecting workers from exposure to Valley Fever and decrease any new injured worker claim.

The agency has published and provided material to businesses and employers detailing potential causes of Valley Fever, its risks and how to provide adequate safety precautions. Reporting any development of the infection of Valley Fever, when a person inhales the fungus and creates an injured worker claim, is mandatory in California. Employers have been asked to determine their risk factor for employees and develop a safety site plan to limit potential exposure to the fungus. Records indicate that the business safety plan should include respirators that have been approved for protection in addition to employee training.

An employer can take extreme safety precautions but, because nature can be unpredictable, accidents may still occur. A worker who has suffered the fungal infection could choose to seek extensive workers' compensation for medical expenses and missed wages. Some California business owners may choose to ensure they have a well-developed employer defense prior to breaking ground in a new area or in the event an outbreak of Valley Fever occurs in a group of employees.

Source: ohsonline.com, Silica, Spills, Lawsuits & Rules, Jamie Friedlander, Jan. 1, 2014

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