A young farmworker died amid extreme heat in Yuma. Lawmakers, activists say workers need protection
A young farmworker died last week in Yuma from suspected heat-related causes. The death comes as both national and local lawmakers are calling for stricter regulations to protect workers from extreme heat.
Dario Mendoza, 25, lived in Yuma with his two children and long-time partner, according to the GoFundMe account set up by his family. He collapsed while working in the fields on July 20 and died later that morning. The high that day was 116 degrees.
A representative from the Yuma County Medical Examiner said the office has not yet finalized Mendoza's autopsy report, but his death was likely heat-related.
"A very dedicated father, doing his best to raise his children," the GoFundMe reads. "He was working in the fields in the terrible Arizona heat when he suddenly lost consciousness. Dario was rushed to the hospital but unfortunately, did not make it."
No clear regulations
Jill Guernsey De Zapien, a public health professor at the University of Arizona, reported Mendoza’s death to labor investigators at the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health after seeing the GoFundMe.
The state is now investigating his death. De Zapien said federal regulators make recommendations to employers through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
"It has a standard that basically says, you know, please provide water, please provide rest," she said. "However, none of those are defined in the sense of, what do you mean by hot? Is that 90 degrees, is that 80 degrees?"
Call for federal rules
De Zapien said unlike California, where state regulations mandate employers provide shade and other safeguards when temperatures surpass 80 degrees, Arizona lacks clear regulations. She said that makes even investigating incidents more difficult.
"Assuming even that they were the best investigators in the world that have the best motive for trying to find out exactly what happened, they don't have a standard by which they can decide ... 'Boy, this employer was ... way out of bounds' ... or 'this employer did certain things that were helpful, but they didn't do enough,'" she said. "There is no standard, so they have nothing to measure against."
This week, Democratic lawmakers in Washington called on the Biden administration to introduce federally enforceable regulations.