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More training and safety needed for California wildfire prevention workers

California struggled with devastating wildfires in 2018. The state now faces the daunting task of figuring out how to manage its forests so that such large-scale disasters do not occur again in the future. While examining the bigger picture is necessary, an often overlooked issue is the safety of workers who do the difficult work of clearing brush and thinning forests.

According to the Sacramento Bee, federal data indicates the state’s wildlands management workers earned an average hourly wage of $10.16 in 2017, the lowest of all California jobs. In addition, many workers are immigrants who are at risk of exploitation. They may have to deal with language barriers and have little to no understanding of labor laws.

Along with being underpaid, workers lack adequate training for complex tasks that often involve working with specialized tools. As a result, they are left working in dangerous conditions where injuries and wage theft can be common. All employees, regardless of the type of work they do, are entitled to a safe workplace.

A lot can be done to improve the health, safety and overall working conditions of California wildlands management workers. First, the state can provide workers with essential resources and training so that they understand their rights. With this knowledge, they can ensure employers are enforcing labor laws even at remote worksites.

Workers should also be provided with protective equipment, which is necessary for safety in wildfire regions. They are exposed to numerous hazards long after fires have been put out and cleanup work has begun.

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