Calif. Employers Should Prepare Now for Summer Heat Amended heat illness prevention standard goes into effect May 1

By Roy Maurer Apr 8, 2015
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California’s workplace safety regulators are encouraging employers with outdoor workers to begin preparing now for hot temperatures.

Last year was the hottest on record in the state, and the past two months of 2015 also have broken temperature records, according to California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).

“California has the most extensive heat illness prevention requirements in the country,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “Exposure to heat can lead to headaches, fatigue and muscle cramps, as well as fainting, seizures and even death,” she said.

The agency’s Heat Illness Prevention Standard was recently updated and is slated to go into effect May 1, 2015. The amendments specify new water and shade requirements, and add new language on emergency response procedures, acclimation and training.

The amended requirements for employers include the following:

  • Water provided must be “fresh, pure, suitably cool,” free of charge and located as close as practicable to where employees are working, with exceptions when employers can demonstrate infeasibility. Where drinking water is not continuously supplied, it shall be provided in “sufficient quantity” at the beginning of the work shift, consisting of one quart per employee per hour, lasting the entire shift.
  • Shade must be provided when the temperature reaches 80 degrees, and it must accommodate all employees on recovery periods, rest periods and meal periods. The shaded area must be located as close as practicable to where employees are working.
  • Employers must monitor workers who ask for a cool-down rest for symptoms of heat illness. If an employee exhibits signs or reports symptoms of heat illness during a cool-down rest period, the employer shall provide appropriate first aid or emergency response. Employers are prohibited from ordering employees to work until signs or symptoms of heat illness have abated.
  • High-heat procedures remain triggered at 95 degrees. During high heat, employees must be effectively observed and monitored by the employer; this includes the use of a mandatory buddy system and regular communication with supervisors. The standard requires pre-shift meetings that review high-heat procedures, encourage employees to drink plenty of water and remind employees of their right to take a cool-down rest break when needed. Agriculture workers must be provided with a minimum 10-minute cool-down period every two hours.
  • New emergency response procedures include implementing effective communication with workers, having an effective first aid response and having a policy of contacting emergency responders to help stricken workers.
  • New acclimation procedures include closely observing all employees during a heat wave—defined as at least 80 degrees, or anytime the temperature is 10 degrees higher than the average high daily temperature in the preceding five days—and closely observing new workers for their first two weeks on the job.
  • The revised standard now specifically requires employers to train employees in the employer’s responsibility to provide water, shade, cool-down rests and access to first aid; as well as workers’ rights under the standard, first aid and emergency response procedures, and acclimatization concepts and methods.
  • Employers must establish, implement and maintain an effective heat illness prevention plan in English and in any language understood by the majority of employees. The plan must be made available to employees at the worksite and also to state agency representatives upon request. An employer’s heat illness prevention plan may be included as part of an illness and injury prevention program but must specifically include the heat illness prevention procedures discussed above.

One-Third of Inspections Led to Citations in 2014

Cal/OSHA conducted 3,575 inspections in 2014, about one-third (1,058) of which resulted in heat-related citations, the agency announced. The most frequently cited sections of the standard related to an employer’s written heat illness prevention program, employee training and inadequate water. A vast majority of the heat inspections occurred at construction (2,022) or agriculture (678) worksites.

There were fewer confirmed heat-related fatalities and illnesses in 2014 than the previous year, and overall compliance with the heat standard increased slightly, according to the agency.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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