Coccidioides immitis is the scientific name for a microscopic fungus that thrives in the top two to 12 inches of the soil here in California. When the soil is disturbed, the fungus can be released and inhaled by workers, which could cause them to contract Valley Fever -- a respiratory fungal infection that could initially present itself with flu-like symptoms. Even though mild cases often resolve on their own, some people who suffer this type of work injury have a much harder time recovering and could need additional, more aggressive treatment.
Employers are required to provide a safe work environment that includes taking measures to avoid this fungus from causing workers to contract Valley Fever. In an area where it is known that the spores could become airborne, a respiratory protection plan must be implemented in accordance with guidelines set forth by the California Department of Industrial Relations and Cal/OSHA. This includes providing the proper respirators and other equipment necessary to reduce workers' exposure.
Workers and supervisors need to be trained to recognize the symptoms of Valley Fever, and they should report any symptoms right away. Training also needs to be done regarding measures that can be taken to reduce the amount of dust created by grading, digging or driving on dusty roads, along with other operations that require the movement of the soil. Employers are required to report hospitalizations and deaths that occur in the workplace, including any resulting from Valley Fever. Doctors are to be alerted that a worker could potentially have Valley Fever as well.
Contracting an illness while on the job can be difficult to identify as a work injury. When workers who are at risk of being exposed to Coccidioides immitis begin to exhibit flu-like symptoms, it would be advisable to get to a doctor who can make a definitive diagnosis since Valley Fever can be fatal in some cases. If an employer does not take the risks of this illness seriously, affected workers -- or the family of a worker who died -- should contact an attorney as soon as possible to determine what their rights and legal remedies are.
Source: dir.ca.gov, "Advice to Employers and Employees RegardingWork-related Valley Fever", Sept. 12, 2016