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HIA Topics

Worker Health

Where people work is just as critical to their health as where they live. The work environment can expose people to harmful or beneficial conditions. Harms may include exposure to high noise levels, dust and heat while benefits may include employment, financial well-being and employer health insurance.

Valley Fever, a soil-borne fungus prevalent in the San Joaquin Valley poses a risk to construction workers involved in or near operations that excavate or move soil. Valley Fever, which doctors and medical scientists refer to as Coccidioidomycosis, is caused by the fungus, Coccidioides immitis. When people breathe in the fungal spores, they may get Valley Fever. Exposure to the spores typically occurs when soil containing the fungus is disturbed. Site excavation and construction of the HSR System could lead to an increased risk of exposure among construction workers. Respiratory personal protective equipment, dust mitigation and managerial and worker prevention training could prevent new cases of Valley Fever.
A number of adverse health outcomes can result from exposure to noise including, hearing loss, stress and increased blood pressure. Studies show that construction workers, in particular, have high levels of noise exposure. While worker mobility and budget constraints can make implementation of engineering and administrative controls difficult, maintaining a culture of prevention and health at HSR System work sites through managerial and worker training can lower the risk of hazardous noise exposure.
There is inadequate research linking exposure to electromagnetic fields and health outcomes.
A household's economic well-being benefits the health of household members through decreased stress and improved nutrition, preventative and medical care, and quality housing access. The HSR System may alleviate some under- and unemployment among low-wage workers through construction of the rail and its related facilities. However, construction workers may be at greater risk of adverse physical and mental health outcomes due to the unstable nature of their employment. The cycle of acute stress that results from episodic job and wage loss not only jeopardizes the well-being of workers but also the development of children in their households. Inclusive local social services can help alleviate the impact of periods of joblessness in the short-term. However, local hiring and retraining policies may provide greater long-term assistance and benefit by capturing economic development spurred by the HSR System for low-wage workers.
Job loss is a risk factor for alcohol dependence and intimate partner violence. Conversely, stable employment is generally associated with decreased crime, violence and substance abuse. While the HSR System may employ some temporary workers for construction jobs, complementary local hiring and retraining programs are needed for longer term, sustained alleviation of the economic conditions that contribute to crime.
Outdoor workers are generally at risk of heat stress. Exposure to extreme heat can result in a number of other illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and even death. The likelihood of heat stress is increased by the use of respirators and other personal protective equipment, such as that needed during soil excavation and moving operations in Valley Fever-endemic areas. Climate change may also increase the number of extreme heat days. Effective means of reducing health risks associated with heat exposure include limiting workers' exposure to sun and heat and providing air conditioning, ventilation, shade can prevent heat-related injury and death.

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