California employers must protect their employees who work outdoors from heat stress under the state’s heat illness prevention regulations, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) warned June 5. Cal/OSHA reminded employers of their obligations under state regulations as the National Weather Service (NWS) issued heat advisories for triple-digit temperatures in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.
High heat also is forecast throughout inland parts of the state through next week.
While there is no federal standard for heat illness prevention—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cites employers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty clause—states like California, Minnesota, and Washington have their own heat stress regulations.
Cal/OSHA reminded those who employ outdoor workers they must take steps, including:
- Developing and implementing an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures;
- Training all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention;
- Providing drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so each worker can drink at least 1 quart per hour, and encouraging workers to do so; and
- Providing shade when workers request it and when temperatures exceed 80 degrees.
Cal/OSHA reminded employers that they should encourage workers to take regular cool-down rests in the shade for at least five minutes and not wait until they feel sick to cool down.
California’s heat illness prevention regulation applies to all outdoor workplaces, including those in the agriculture, construction, landscaping, and oil and gas extraction industries.
The standard also applies to transportation or delivery of agricultural products, construction or other heavy materials, such as cargo, furniture, lumber, or other commercial and industrial materials; unless the employment consists of operating an air-conditioned vehicle and does not involve loading or unloading goods.
The agency encouraged workers whose employers do not fully comply with the heat illness prevention regulations to file a complaint with Cal/OSHA.
Cal/OSHA provides consultation services to help employers who need assistance in creating and implementing a heat illness prevention program. The agency even offers an “eTool” on its website with sample procedures employers can adapt to their particular work sites.
Workers with certain health conditions like diabetes may have a reduced tolerance for hot conditions. Such workers and their employers should be extra vigilant during high heat days. The agency warned that some high blood pressure and anti-inflammatory medications can also increase a worker’s risk for heat illness.
California is developing a standard for heat illness prevention in indoor workplaces. The new indoor heat stress regulation was mandated by state law. Employers outside California should be mindful that:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has criticized OSHA’s use of the general duty clause to cite employers in cases of worker heat stress, insisting that without a formal standard, OSHA’s enforcement policy has become a “gotcha” the federal agency applies inconsistently; and
- Public Citizen and a coalition of labor organizations have petitioned OSHA for a federal heat stress standard.
To learn more about Cal/OSHA enforcement trends and strategies to stay in compliance, attend BLR’s upcoming Cal/OSHA Summit 2019.
The Cal/OSHA Summit, which will be held from October 7–9 in Los Angeles, is a leading state-specific event for California employers and safety professionals to get cutting-edge developments on new safety regulations, compliance strategies, and management tactics. Register now.