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July 31, 2012
Cal/OSHA takes proactive approach to protecting workers from heat illness

Cal/OSHA is reminding all employers to protect their outdoor workers from the risk of heat illness, especially with heat waves expected this week in the Central and Inland Valleys.

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Cal/OSHA has maintained a constant presence to ensure that employers protect their outdoor workers from the risk of heat illness. While these ongoing efforts have saved lives due to greater compliance by employers, constant vigilance is particularly necessary during periods of high heat, according to a press release.

“Cal/OSHA’s enforcement of the nation’s first and most comprehensive heat illness prevention regulation has saved many lives since its adoption, as is evident by the reductions in fatalities and serious illnesses since 2005,” said Christine Baker, director of the California Department of Industrial Relations. “California is a better place to work because of our standard and partnerships with employers and labor to protect all outdoor workers from heat illness.”

The Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has been out in force since April this year, beginning in the Coachella Valley when temperatures hit the 100 degree mark. Cal/OSHA’s comprehensive approach includes strong enforcement of the heat regulations, extensive outreach and training, continuation of an award-winning public safety campaign that includes media coverage, and partnerships to increase Cal/OSHA’s reach and impact.

“Our heat illness prevention campaign combines proactive, coordinated inspections in different regions of the state to ensure that employers have good heat illness prevention programs,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “These heat inspections often result in the discovery of serious problems that can be corrected before workers become sick from the heat. When temperatures spike, our district offices also send inspectors out locally to ensure workers are safe, and may shut down the worksite if we find imminent hazards.”

Cal/OSHA inspections occur year round to ensure that farm workers and other outdoor workers are protected from heat illness. The comprehensive inspections include a thorough review of employers to ensure they have enough water and shade, are providing rest breaks, and have provided adequate training for supervisors and workers about emergency procedures in case workers become ill from the heat.

During California’s heat season (April through September), these efforts are redoubled. Employers who fail to adhere to the heat regulations are cited and required to correct the violations. Where appropriate and necessary, outdoor worksites are shut down when inadequate shade, water, or emergency response procedures constitutes an imminent hazard. Those sites remain closed until the employer can demonstrate that the dangerous conditions are mitigated.

“Last year, over 35 percent of our total inspections were focused on preventing heat illness. This combined with our extensive outreach to employers has resulted in a higher than ever compliance rate of 76 percent in agriculture,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “Yet there are farm labor contractors, growers and employers in other industries who fail to provide enough water, shade, training and emergency procedures. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of every employer to ensure the safety of their workers, including compliance with the heat illness prevention standard. Cal/OSHA is committed to enforcing that standard when employers fail to protect workers.”

Cal OSHA has extended its effective statewide public awareness campaign that targets the most underserved population of outdoor workers and includes messages in Spanish, Punjabi, Hmong, Mixteco, and Trique. The award-winning "Water. Rest. Shade" campaign is a multifaceted initiative combining outdoor and radio announcements with written materials and a safety DVD in the targeted languages as well as a comprehensive outreach campaign.

Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Program is also working to train employers and to identify those who engage in best practices for heat illness prevention and other worksite safety protocols.

For more information on heat illness prevention, visit the Cal/OSHA website at www.dir.ca.gov/DOSH/HeatIllnessInfo.html or the "Water Rest. Shade" campaign website at http://www.99calor.org/campaign.

Employees with work-related questions or complaints, including heat illness, can call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at 866-924-9757 or 877-99-CALOR.

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