- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif. | After watching grape harvesters toil in the vineyards on a summer day without shade, Garth Patterson was inspired to get them some relief.

The Napa Valley businessman experimented with several prototypes before finding what he believes is the answer. He created a towable trailer with an aluminum canopy that provides first aid and relief from heat stress, a vehicle he hopes will improve farmworker safety while helping him turn a profit.

Mr. Patterson has trademarked his Cooling Station, which runs on a generator and features NFL-quality misting fans that can reduce surrounding temperatures by 25 degrees. It seats 12, holds up to 300 gallons of water and has an emergency shower.

“It has huge potential in farming, construction and emergency services,” said Mr. Patterson, a former fan distributor. “It allows them to sit in the shade and cool off.”

Mr. Patterson, 56, said he hopes to fill a need as California officials debate the best rules for protecting laborers from heat illness and death. The stations also could be sold in places such as Florida and Texas, he said.

In May 2008, a pregnant teenager, Maria Vasquez Jimenez, died from heat stroke as she pruned grapevines for more than nine hours in nearly triple-digit heat. The death prompted California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state officials to call for stronger farmworker protections, but the effort since then has been uneven.

This year, inspectors found dozens of laborers toiling in the fields with little or no shade or water during a heat wave. Eight farm labor contractors were shut down for violating heat-illness prevention rules.

In summer, the state Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board twice rejected emergency rules designed to prevent heat stress. Farmworker advocates wanted shade structures erected when temperatures reach 75 degrees, while farm owners wanted the regulation to kick in at 85 degrees. Construction firms also voiced concerns about how they might be affected by the new rules. The safety board is putting the proposal through a full hearing.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state on behalf of the United Farm Workers and five plaintiffs, most of whom have suffered heat illness or have had relatives die.

Since 2005, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has confirmed 12 cases of farmworkers dying from heat-related stress.

Mr. Patterson’s invention could be great news for those who work California’s fields, said Maria Machuca, spokeswoman for the United Farm Workers of America. She said the union will watch to see whether state regulators show similar enthusiasm.

Mr. Patterson characterizes his trailer as an “asset protection tool” for businesses whose employees labor in the sun because the penalties for failing to properly care for workers can far outweigh the Cooling Station’s $20,000 price tag. He also is making sales pitches to home builders, emergency first responders and movie-production crews.

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