Business Insurance

Heat Illness Changes Approved by Cal-OSHA Standards Board

workers comp

Over the objections of employer groups and applause from labor representatives, the Cal-OSHA Standards Board approved major revisions to the state’s heat illness prevention standard. Executive Officer Marley Hart said the board would request an early effective date for the revisions from the Office of Administrative Law – April 1 instead of July 1.

That means that employers must revise their heat illness programs and train employees on an accelerated schedule, with barely five weeks before the changes become enforceable. Under normal circumstances, the changes would trigger on July 1, as OAL sets effective dates quarterly and April 1 is too early. But Cal/OSHA wants the changes in place for the growing season.

The revisions, which the Division of Occupational Safety and Health say are necessary based on the Division’s enforcement experience, are aimed at specifying the requirements for provision of water and shade. It also ramps up requirements under the high-heat provisions and adds new language on emergency response procedures, acclimation, and training. Specifically:

  • Water must be “fresh, pure, suitably cool” and located as close as practicable to where employees are working, with exceptions when employers can demonstrate infeasibility.
  • Shade must be present at 80 degrees, instead of the current 85, and accommodate all employees on recovery or rest periods, and those onsite taking meal periods.
  • Employees taking a “preventative cool-down rest” must be monitored for symptoms of heat illness, encouraged to remain in the shade and not ordered back to work until symptoms are gone. Employees with symptoms must be provided appropriate first aid or emergency response.
  • High-heat procedures (which will remain triggered at 95 degrees) shall ensure “effective” observation and monitoring, including a mandatory buddy system and regular communication with employees working by themselves. During high heat, employees must be provided with a minimum 10-minute cool-down period every two hours.
  • Emergency response procedures include effective communication, response to signs and symptoms of heat illness and procedures for contacting emergency responders to help stricken workers.
  • Acclimation procedures including close observation of all employees during a heat wave – defined as at least 80 degrees. New employees must be closely observed for their first two weeks on the job.

The board voted 5-1 to approve the changes, with management representative Bill Jackson casting an emphatic “no.” He commented, “My belief is that the Division made the decision that this is necessary, and we’re going to do this. There isn’t an ounce of necessity” to it.

But chairman Dave Thomas, who last month stated publicly that he was opposed to the proposal as written, said he had changed his mind after re-reading the proposal and remembering his charge as board chair. “This is reasonable enough for me,” he said.

Employer representatives hammered the necessity argument, saying DOSH has refused to provide requested data to prove the changes are necessary. But labor reps said the continuing deaths and illnesses they believe are attributable to heat illness support the argument for change.

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