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July 18, 2023
Cal/OSHA conducting targeted heat inspections

On July 12, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) announced it’s conducting targeted inspections to protect workers from heat illness during a heat wave forecast to affect parts of the state over several days.

“Our team is out in full force, conducting targeted high heat inspections with a focus on construction, agriculture, landscaping, and warehouse industries to ensure employers are complying with the law,” Cal/OSHA Chief Jeff Killip said in an agency statement.

The National Weather Service identified a significant warming trend in temperatures likely to occur from July 12 through July 18, according to Cal/OSHA, increasing workers’ risk of suffering heat illness in several areas of the state.

Cal/OSHA’s heat illness prevention regulation applies to outdoor workplaces such as those in agriculture, construction, and landscaping. In indoor workplaces, employers must correct unsafe conditions for workers caused by heat as part of their injury and illness prevention program (IIPP).

Requirements under the outdoor heat illness prevention standard include the following:

  • 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’s 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.
  • Encouraging workers to take cool-down rest breaks in the shade for at least 5 minutes when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating. Cal/OSHA cautioned that workers shouldn’t wait until they feel sick to cool down.
  • Providing proper shade when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Workers have the right to request and be provided shade to cool off at any time.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board held a hearing in May on a proposed indoor heat illness prevention standard.

There’s no current federal heat illness prevention standard, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in 2021 for a federal standard for heat illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. The agency also launched an indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards National Emphasis Program (NEP) last year. Under the NEP, agency compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) may make self-referrals at worksites where they suspect workers are exposed to heat hazards. Area offices may also accept referrals from the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

Last summer, OSHA’s Region 3 office announced a Regional Emphasis Program (REP) focused on ergonomic and heat hazards in warehouses. In response to the ongoing growth of e-commerce, the REP is focused on employers in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

OSHA’s heat illness prevention enforcement under the General Duty Clause (§5(a)(1)) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act remains controversial.

This spring, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission vacated OSHA citations of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for letter carriers in Benton, Arkansas; Houston and San Antonio, Texas; and Martinsburg, West Virginia, who were exposed to excessive heat. The review panel concluded that OSHA’s recommendations for abatement were financially infeasible for the USPS.

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