Keeping workers safe when it’s hot outside

bruce sarchet
Bruce Sarchet

On June 1, the California Occupational Safety and Health Division sued a statewide high heat advisory, noting that temperatures in California this summer are expected to exceed 100 degrees.

Cal/OSHA used the advisory as an opportunity to remind the state’s employers about the need to protect outdoor workers and comply with Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Standard.

The standard applies to any outdoor place of employment and requires a written and effective heat illness prevention plan.  This article will summarize California’s heat illness prevention requirements. However, as always, this article does not substitute for the advice of legal counsel.

The standard requires employers to encourage workers to drink water frequently and to provide enough fresh water so each employee can drink at least one quart, or four eight-ounce glasses, of water per hour.  The water must be fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge.  It also must be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working.

Access to shade must be available regardless of the temperature, except in very limited circumstances.  Employees must be allowed and encouraged to take a preventive cool-down rest in the shade when they feel the need to do so to prevent overheating.

If the temperature is above 80 degrees, employers must maintain one or more areas with shade that are either in the open air or cooled or ventilated whenever workers are present. The amount of shade must be enough to accommodate the number of employees on recovery or rest periods.  The shade must be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working.

If the temperature is below 80 degrees, employers can either provide the shade described above or provide timely access to shade whenever an employee asks for it.

The advisory states that employers should encourage employees to be proactive and take a cool-down rest when needed rather than wait until they start to feel sick.  If an employee takes a preventive cool-down rest, he or she must be monitored and not be ordered back to work until any signs or symptoms of heat illness have abated.  In no case can this recovery period be less than five minutes in addition to the time needed to access the shade.

An employer must provide appropriate first aid or emergency response if an employee shows signs or reports symptoms of heat illness.

Employers must implement high-heat procedures when the temperature is 95 degrees or higher.  Among other requirements, those procedures include:

  • ensuring that effective communication by voice, observation or electronic means is maintained so employees at the work site can contact a supervisor;
  • observing employees for alertness or signs or symptoms of heat illness;
  • reminding employees throughout their shift to drink plenty of water.

Agricultural employers must ensure that employees take at least 10 minutes of preventive cool-down rest every two hours.

All employers must implement effective emergency response procedures that include responding to signs and symptoms of possible heat illness; contacting emergency medical services; and ensuring that, if an emergency occurs, clear and precise directions to the work site can be provided to the emergency responders.

The standard also includes training requirements for employees and supervisors, including providing training on heat illness and the employer’s procedures for responding to symptoms of possible heat illness.

According to the advisory, Cal/OSHA “will inspect outdoor worksites in industries such as agriculture, construction, landscaping and others throughout the heat season.”  Under California law, an employer which requires an employee to work during a heat recovery period must provide an extra hour of pay to that employee, as is the case when an employee is required to work during his or her meal period.

California employers with outdoor worksites should consider reviewing their current injury and illness plans to ensure that they incorporate the Heat Illness Prevention Standard’s requirements.  Employers should also train managers and employees, and regularly inspect and audit  worksites to ensure that outdoor workers are provided with the shade and water necessary to avoid illness.

Bruce Sarchet is an attorney with the firm of Littler Mendelson and represents employers in labor and employment law matters.  You can contact him at [email protected].



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