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June 07, 2021
Cal/OSHA reminds employers of heat rules

On May 29, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) reminded employers they must protect their employees who work outdoors from heat stress under the state’s heat illness prevention regulations. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for northern California and the Central Valley through 9 p.m. PDT June 1.

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The California heat illness prevention requirements apply to all outdoor workers, including those in agriculture, construction, landscaping, maintenance, and transportation who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors, as well as delivery drivers in vehicles without air conditioning.

At the beginning of the summer, workers may not yet have acclimatized to working in hot conditions, according to Cal/OSHA. The state’s heat illness prevention standard requires employers to closely observe outdoor workers when assigned to work in a high-heat area for the first time. Workers need water, rest, and shade, as well as training on the signs of heat illness and what to do in case of a heat illness emergency.

Employers with outdoor workers must comply with all the requirements of the state’s standard, including 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 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.
  • Encouraging workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least 5 minutes when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating. Workers should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.
  • Providing proper shade when temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers have the right to request and be provided shade to cool off at any time.

Cal/OSHA has a heat illness prevention special emphasis program (SEP) that includes both multilingual outreach and training programs for California’s employers and workers and enforcement of the state heat regulation.

There is no federal heat stress or heat illness prevention standard. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cites employers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has criticized the agency’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” that the federal agency inconsistently applies.

California and Washington have state standards for heat illness prevention. Minnesota has a state workplace health and safety standard for both cold and heat exposures.

Progress of Cal/OSHA chief’s federal nomination

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing May 27 on the nomination of Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker to head federal OSHA. On April 9, the White House announced Parker’s nomination to be assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. The committee has not yet forwarded Parker’s nomination to the full Senate.

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