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Caltrans fined for worker risk in homeless camp cleanups

The causes of worker injuries may be endless. These are not necessarily limited to workplace accidents and may also include dangerous or unhealthy conditions. Earlier this month, CalOSHA fined Caltrans for not taking appropriate actions to protect its workers cleaning up homeless camps under bridges and along roadways.

Last Nov., the International Union of Operating Engineers filed a complaint with CalOSHA as part of its efforts seeking better protections for Caltrans workers who cleaned up human waste, used feminine hygiene products and needles as they disbanded homeless camps under bridges and near roadways.

It also charged that Caltrans workers in District 3 did not receive blood born pathogen training and were not properly equipped. A union official claimed that this was not part of the employees' duties to maintain highways and bridges.

The union also filed a grievance over the cleanup work with Caltrans. It argued that Caltrans should provide training, equipment and a pay increase for workers assigned to cleaning up human waste or hire outside contractors who specialize in biohazards. Arbitration over this grievance may take place this Nov.

CalOSHA issued its citation on May 2 in response to the union's complaint. But CalOSHA did not refer to blood-borne pathogen training or equipment.

In this citation, Caltrans was charged with failing to review all investigations of occupational accidents and illnesses and not training all its employees on the department's injury and illness prevention program. It fined Caltrans $850 for two citations.

A Caltrans' spokesperson said that the number of unlawful encampments along state highways is rapidly growing. Assignments for performing illegal encampment cleanups was appropriately assigned to department maintenance workers in accordance with state government human resource' specifications for these jobs. Caltrans is also using qualified contractors to do these tasks in certain situations, according to the spokesperson.

Last summer, CalOSHA also cited the department of general services over its policies for needles and other sharp objects and hazard assessment involving workers cleaning up after homeless people who were in Sacramento's State Capitol Park. This action followed a union complaint.

Workers may face health problems and other injuries if they engage in biohazard and other types of cleanup work without proper training and precautions. An attorney can help gather evidence and pursue their right to compensation in a legal proceeding.

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