California employers may soon be required to comply with a law that regulates heat at indoor workplaces. A lawyer close to the subject says a draft regulation currently being discussed has not engendered the warmest of receptions.
For more than a decade, Cal/OSHA has required employers to take steps to minimize heat illnesses in outdoor places of employment. Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation mandating Cal/OSHA to develop a comparable rule for indoor workplaces.
Attorney Benjamin Ebbink, of counsel to the employment law firm Fisher and Phillips, says regulators and employers are not of one mind on next steps. He notes in a blog post that, “Perhaps an indication of things to come, Cal/OSHA and the employer community could not even seem to agree on the timeframe set forth in the legislation.” Cal/OSHA believes the agency must develop a formal rulemaking proposal that would be ready for adoption by January 2019. But employer representatives interpret the law to mean that Cal/OSHA must propose a regulation by that date, which would signal the beginning, not the end of the regulatory process.
An indoor heat rule would affect workplaces where the temperature exceeds 90 degrees, or 80 degrees where employees perform, moderate, heavy, or very heavy work. Employers would be required to establish, implement, and maintain an effective heat illness prevention plan. The program would be part of an employer’s illness and injury prevention program (IIPP), or outdoor heat illness prevention plan, both required under Cal/OSHA.
According to a discussion draft proposal, employers would be required to provide water and rest, first-aid, emergency response procedures, and close observation of unacclimatized employees. The draft proposal requires employers to use engineering or administrative controls to reduce exposure.
Where those controls are not feasible, the plan calls for implementation of “a whole slew of additional procedures,” according to Ebbink.
This includes preshift meetings and 10-minute cool-down rest periods every two hours. Ebbink anticipates it would be difficult for an average employer to calculate the exposure limit for a given employee using Cal/OSHA-provided charts.
Ebbink adds that while employers’ representatives at a meeting on the draft acknowledge that heat illness can be a factor in some indoor workplaces, “they expressed significant concern about the complexity and ambiguity contained in the current proposal.”