United States: OSHA Turns Up The Heat In California

As summer approaches and temperatures rise, employers in California may face the heat from Cal/OSHA if they don't protect employees who work outdoors from heat-related illnesses. The law, codified under California Code of Regulations, title 8, section 3395, requires employers to develop, in writing, and implement an effective Heat Illness Prevention Plan ("HIPP"), which includes the following:

  • Procedures for providing sufficient water
  • Procedures for providing access to shade
  • High-heat procedures
  • Emergency response procedures
  • Acclimatization methods and procedures

High Quality H20

Back in 1998, Bobby Boucher taught us that "alligators are ornery because they got all them teeth and no toothbrush." Wait, that's the wrong quote. Actually, the most famous water boy of all taught us that there is nothing better than good old water for staying hydrated and winning football games. The same holds true for preventing heat-related illness in the workplace. It hardly seems necessary that we need a law to remind us to drink water, but we have one, so lets examine some of the requirements.

In order to avoid a citation from the safety police. An employer in the State of California must provide water to employees working outdoors. This water must be "free of charge" and also be "fresh, pure, and suitably cool." Sounds reasonable, right? Well, it doesn't end there. The water cannot be "dipped, scooped, or ladled from containers." Moreover, the dispensers must be capable of being tightly closed, have a faucet or drinking fountain, and must be clearly marked as to its contents. If cups are provided, the employer must make sure that the employees do not share those cups with one another (germs are bad) and provide place to throw those cups away (litter is bad too). Also, the drinking fountains and portable water dispensers cannot be located in a "toilet room." Seriously. An employer can comply with California law by providing individual and sealed bottled water to each employee. In all cases, the employer must provide each employee with at least one quart of water per hour of work.

Throwing Shade

If you're like me, you had to resort to Google to learn what "throwing shade" means and we're not talking about that kind of shade. As an employer in the Golden State, Cal/OSHA requires you to provide actual shade for your employees. As with the water requirements, providing shade on a hot day seems intuitive. No big deal, right? Not in California!

Let's start with when shade is required. The law starts off by stating that shade is required when the temperature in the work area exceeds 80 degrees. But, the law also requires that employers provide "timely access to shade upon an employee's request." So which is it? Well, as written, employers must provide access to shade, even if the temperature does not exceed 80 degrees, upon request by an employee. The bottom line is that the employer should always have shade available for its employees.

Now that we know when shade is required to be provided (always), we need to know what constitutes "shade." No, Google will not help you here. Shade means something very specific in California. The law states:

  • "Shade" means blockage of direct sunlight. One indicator that blockage is sufficient is when objects do not cast a shadow in the area of blocked sunlight. Shade is not adequate when heat in the area of shade defeats the purpose of shade, which is to allow the body to cool. For example, a car sitting in the sun does not provide acceptable shade to a person inside it, unless the car is running with air conditioning. Shade may be provided by any natural or artificial means that does not expose employees to unsafe or unhealthy conditions and that does not deter or discourage access or use.

It's Getting Hot in Here – High Heat Procedures

Although, the rapper Nelly provides sage advice on what to do when it gets hot, in California, employers must implement specific "high-heat procedures" when the temperature equals or exceeds 95 degrees. Some of those procedures include:

  • Ensuring effective communication perhaps using electronic means.
  • Observing employees by assigning someone to monitor them for symptoms of heat illness or implementing a buddy system.
  • Reminding employees to drink the fresh, pure, and suitably cool water you have provided for them.
  • Conduct pre-shift meeting to discuss high heat procedures.

Ring The Alarm – Emergency Response Procedures

In case of emergency, call 911! No way to mess this up, right? Not so fast. Employers must keep in mind that outdoor work can take place in remote areas with no mobile phone service and employers must have a back up plan. When contact is established, the employer must ensure that clear and precise directions to the worksite can be provided to emergency responders. If necessary, the employer should be prepared to transport the employee to a place where they can be reached by an emergency medical provider.

Take it Easy – Acclimatization

When Daniel LaRusso moved from New Jersey to Southern California, it took him a while to acclimate himself to his new environment. From the palm trees ("watch out for falling coconuts") to the people ("strike first, strike hard, no mercy, sir"), there was a lot to get used to. In fact, it wasn't until he was closely mentored by Mr. Miyagi that he learned how thrive in beautiful Reseda, California.

Like Daniel LaRusso, employees in California are required by law to acclimatize, or get used to working in the heat. According to Section 3395, acclimatization peaks in most people within four to fourteen days of regular work for at least two hours per day in the heat. Therefore, California law requires that an employee who has been newly assigned to a high heat area be closely observed by a supervisor or designee for the first 14 days of the employee's employment.

Even if the employees are not new, the law requires that all employees shall be closely observed by a supervisor or designee during a heat wave. A "heat wave" means any day in which the predicted high temperature for the day will be at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit and at least ten degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average high daily temperature in the preceding five days.

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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