April 16, 2020

California Law Orders Valley Fever Training for Construction Workers

A new law recently approved by the governor of California mandates that construction employers with worksites in counties where Valley Fever is highly endemic provide all their employees with awareness training on the disease. Under Assembly Bill No. 203, employers must train workers on minimizing the risk of Valley Fever by May 1, 2020. Training must be provided annually thereafter, and before employees begin work that is “reasonably anticipated to cause exposure to substantial dust disturbance.”

Valley Fever is caused by the microscopic fungus Coccidioides immitis, which is present in the soil of semiarid areas such as the Central Valley of California. When soil is disturbed, such as by high winds or construction activities, the fungus’ spores can become airborne and inhaled. The disease can cause disability or death, along with symptoms such as fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath, headaches, body aches, joint pain, rash, and flu-like symptoms.

Counties in California where Valley Fever is highly endemic include Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, Monterey, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura. Employers must provide workers at sites in these counties with information on what Valley Fever is, how it is contracted, its symptoms, and high-risk activities and environments that may result in exposure. Employees should be taught about personal risk factors, such as having a compromised immune system, that may make them particularly vulnerable, and personal and environmental exposure prevention methods, including water-based dust suppression, good personal hygiene, and working upwind. The new law also stresses the importance of employees reporting symptoms to their employers, and seeking early diagnosis and treatment from medical professionals.

Acceptable training materials may include existing material on Valley Fever developed by a federal, state, or local agency, including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New materials released by the Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health include an interactive training guide for California construction workers (PDF) and a one-hour webinar on preventing Valley Fever in outdoor workers.