Aug. 22, 2005 California's New Emergency Heat Illness Regulations

Summary

Yesterday, the California Office of Administrative Law approved emergency regulations proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board aimed at preventing heat-related injuries at work. Importantly, the regulations only pertain to outdoor work environments. The Board proposed these emergency regulations because of an increase in reported injuries in the agriculture and construction industries, but the regulations apply to all outdoor work. In general, the regulations require water, shade, and awareness training and are effective immediately.

Details

Notably, the regulations provide that they are only applicable when “environmental risk factors for heat illness” are present. Unfortunately, the regulations provide little guidance on this subject. In an attempt to define this term, the regulations simply provide a list of various factors, including temperature, humidity, other heat sources, type of work, and clothing worn by employees. Absent from the regulations, however, is an indication of what temperature, what humidity level, and what type of work would trigger the regulations. Therefore, employers are cautioned to follow the regulations whenever outdoor work is performed, unless and until further clarification is provided.

Once these factors warrant action, the regulations have three components: (1) water, (2) shade (and rest), and (3) training. As to water, the regulations provide that an employer must make available at least one quart of water per hour, per employee working outdoors. Further, employees must be provided with access to shade (temporary shade such as a canopy is acceptable) throughout each shift. Along with the shade, employees must be provided the opportunity to cool off in the shade for at least five minutes anytime the employee believes that a “preventative recovery period” is required. (Again, this term is not defined and seemingly requires a break whenever the employee requests one.)

Finally, and most notably, all supervisors and employees must be provided training on prevention, detection and appropriate responses to possible heat illness. The regulations specify the topics for training, which include advising employees to drink plenty of water, advising as to personal risk factors such as physical fitness and weight, and going over employer policies for response to possible heat injuries. For assistance, the Board provides handouts for employers and employees for this training. As a part of the training, the regulations also include information on “acclimatization.” The regulations define acclimatization as a process for employees to work up to full shifts after not being exposed to the heat for a significant period of time (for example, when beginning a job if the employee is new to a hot area or after a leave of absence). The regulations do not require acclimatization, but recommend it to employers and require that supervisors and employees be trained on the subject.

What this Means

If you are an employer with employees doing work outdoors, you should: (1) review any emergency medical services policy that you have, and in particular, your policy for response to possible heat-related injuries (or develop one if you do not already have one in place); (2) provide basic training to all employees and supervisors regarding heat-related illness; and (3) make sure that sufficient potable water and shade are available to alleviate the effects of hot weather for all employees working outdoors.

Note

Assembly Bill 805 is currently pending in the legislature containing other (similar) requirements for heat-related illness. We will keep you updated on the status of this legislation.

This E-Update was authored by Joe Connaughton and Melissa Listug Klick. For more information, please contact Mr. Connaughton, Ms. Listug Klick, or any Paul, Plevin attorney at 619-237-5200.

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