United States: Cal/OSHA Warns California Employers That Another Hot Summer Is On The Horizon

On June 1, 2016, the California Occupational Safety and Health Division (Cal/OSHA), predicting that temperatures in certain parts of Southern California and even the cooler Bay Area are expected to exceed 100 degrees, issued a "Statewide High Heat Advisory." Cal/OSHA used the Advisory as an opportunity to remind California employers how they can protect their outdoor workers, including developing and implementing written procedures for complying with the Cal/OSHA "Heat Illness Prevention Standard."

Cal/OSHA's Heat Illness Prevention Standard

Cal/OSHA's Heat Illness Prevention Standard applies to any "outdoor place of employment"1 and requires a written and "effective heat illness prevention plan."2

Providing Water. An employer must encourage frequent water consumption, and provide enough fresh water so each employee can drink at least one quart, or four eight-ounce glasses, of water per hour. The water must be fresh, pure, suitably cool, and free of charge. It also must be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working.

Access to Shade. Subject to very limited exceptions, access to shade must be available regardless of the temperature. Employees must be allowed and encouraged to take a preventive cool-down rest in the shade when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating.

  • If the temperature is above 80 degrees, the employer must have and maintain one or more areas with shade at all times while employees are present that are either open to the air or provided with ventilation or cooling. The amount of shade present shall be enough to accommodate the number of employees on recovery or rest periods so they can sit in a normal posture fully in the shade without having to be in physical contact with each other. The shade will be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working. Subject to the same specifications, the shade present during meal periods will be at least enough to accommodate the number of employees on the meal period who remain onsite.
  • If the temperature is below 80 degrees, the employer can either provide the shade described above or provide timely access to shade upon an employee's request.

The Advisory states that employers should encourage employees to be proactive and take a cool-down rest when needed rather than wait until they start feeling sick. If an employee takes a preventive cool-down rest, he or she will:

  • be monitored and asked if he or she is experiencing symptoms of heat illness;
  • be encouraged to remain in the shade; and
  • not be ordered back to work until any signs or symptoms of heat illness have abated, but in no event less than five minutes in addition to the time needed to access the shade.

An employer must provide appropriate first aid or emergency response if an employee exhibits signs or reports symptoms of heat illness.

High-Heat Procedures. Employers covered by this section must implement high-heat procedures when the temperature equals or exceeds 95 degrees. These procedures must include, among many others, ensuring that effective communication by voice, observation or electronic means is maintained so employees at the work site can contact a supervisor; observing employees for alertness or signs or symptoms of heat illness; designating one or more employees on the worksite as authorized to call for emergency aid; and reminding employees throughout their shift to drink plenty of water. Agricultural employers will ensure that employees take at least 10 minutes of preventive cool-down rest every two hours.

Emergency Response Procedures. All employers must implement effective emergency response procedures that include responding to signs and symptoms of possible heat illness; contacting emergency medical services; and ensuring that, if an emergency occurs, clear and precise directions to the work site can and will be provided to the emergency responders.

Training. All employees are to be trained on the following topics:

  • Environmental and personal risk factors for heat illness.
  • The employer's procedures for complying with the Standard.
  • The importance of frequent consumption of small quantities of water, up to four cups per hour under extreme conditions of work and heat.
  • The importance of acclimatization, which is the temporary adaptation of the body to work in the heat.
  • Different types of heat illness and the common signs and symptoms of heat illness.
  • The importance of immediately reporting to the employer symptoms or signs of heat illness in themselves or in coworkers.
  • The employer's procedures for responding to symptoms of possible heat illness.
  • Procedures for contacting emergency medical services.
  • How to provide clear and precise directions to the worksite.

The Standard also includes additional training requirements for supervisors.

Recommendations for California Employers

According to the Advisory, Cal/OSHA "will inspect outdoor worksites in industries such as agriculture, construction, landscaping, and others throughout the heat season." As a result, California employers with outdoor places of employment should consider:

  • Reviewing their current injury and illness plans to ensure that they incorporate the Heat Illness Prevention Standard's requirements;
  • Training their employees and managers on these requirements; and
  • Ensuring that outdoor workers are provided with the shade and water necessary to avoid illness.

Footnotes

1 All industries must comply, except that only the following industries must comply with the "high heat procedures" section of the Standard: agriculture; construction; landscaping; oil and gas extraction; and transportation or delivery of agricultural products, construction materials, or other heavy materials (except for employment that consists of operating an air-conditioned vehicle and does not include loading or unloading).

2 The full text of the Standard and its requirements can be found at Cal/OSHA's website: http://www.dir.ca.gov/title8/3395.html.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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