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July 19, 2012
Bills in the works address healthcare worker safety, heat illness prevention for farmworkers

Not all state rules affecting workplace safety originate with the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board—sometimes, the California Legislature gets in on the game, too. Read on to find out which bills currently in the legislature could affect your workplace.

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Protecting healthcare workers

In the wake of the 2010 murder of Napa State Hospital technician Donna Gross by a mentally ill patient, Assemblyman Michael Allen of Napa has introduced several bills intended to protect healthcare workers from violent patients:

  • A.B. 2397 addresses staffing ratios, a factor believed to have affected the risk to workers at Napa State Hospital. The legislation would ensure that state hospitals treating the mentally ill maintain a minimum 25:1 patient-to-treatment staff ratio throughout their facilities and a 15:1 patient-to-treatment staff ratio in their admissions units.

  • A.B. 2399 would codify the injury and illness prevention plan (IIPP) requirement for California state hospitals that treat the mentally ill. Although state hospitals, like all California workplaces, are required by Cal/OSHA to develop IIPPs, this bill would write a requirement into the state's welfare and institutions code for each California state hospital to develop IIPPs and add certain elements to them.

  • A.B. 2623 would allow police officers at California state hospitals treating the mentally ill to carry firearms when patrolling hospital grounds or transporting patients in the community. Officers could not carry firearms in "secured treatment areas." The bill would enhance protection in communities surrounding the state hospitals during transportation of patients as well as provide for traditional police protection on hospital campuses.

Another hazard healthcare workers face is secondhand smoke. Although smoking is prohibited in almost all indoor workplaces in California, an exception allows patient smoking areas in residential care facilities. Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter of Rialto has proposed eliminating this exception:

  • A.B. 217 would prohibit smoking inside long-term healthcare facilities. Facilities would not be prohibited from continuing or implementing smoke-free policies inside and outside. Under the new rule, patient smoking areas could not be located in a patient's room; such areas must be located outdoors in a courtyard, patio, or other outdoor space subject to monitoring by facility staff in an area that reasonably prevents smoke from entering the facility or patient rooms.
    Besides reducing secondhand smoke exposures, the bill would reduce the risk of fires and explosions by prohibiting lit tobacco products in those facilities that contain oxygen tanks, flammable chemicals, and combustible items, the measure's author points out.

Helping farmworkers keep their cool

Assemblywoman Betsy Butler of El Segundo has introduced a bill that codifies parts of Cal/OSHA's heat illness prevention regulation and provides additional recourse for farmworkers who suffer heat-related illness:

  • A.B. 2346, known as the Farmworker Safety Act of 2012, requires employers to ensure that water and shade are provided to farmworkers. The bill criminalizes the failure to provide water and shade to farmworkers, opening employers to a charge of involuntary manslaughter if a worker dies of heat-related illness while working without access to water and shade. The bill will also allow farmworkers who suffer heat illness while working under conditions that violate the law to sue their employers.
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