BigSun-300x201With the first day of summer on June 20, employers with an outdoor workforce will want to be thinking about preventing heat illness.

California’s strict heat illness standards require employers to take precise steps to protect outdoor workers from heat illness. California’s standards are the most extensive in the country. The heat illness standards are enforced by Cal/OSHA, otherwise known as the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Significant changes to the heat illness standard became effective last year on May 1, 2015.

Employers and employees both need to know the signs of heat illness so they can recognize the effects on workers and alert a supervisor if a worker needs assistance.

Cal/OSHA urges employers to prepare in advance for heat waves.

“Employers at outdoor worksites must know the steps to take to prevent heat illness injuries on the job,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “Cal/OSHA continues to focus on training and outreach, combined with enforcement targeting those employers who put their workers’ safety at risk.”

In addition, whether you have an indoor or outdoor workforce, employers should always consider the overall duty to ensure a safe workplace.

General Overview

Heat illness is a serious medical condition that occurs when the body’s temperature control system can’t maintain an acceptable internal temperature, and a person’s body temperature can quickly rise to a dangerous level. If untreated, heat illness can be fatal.

The California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 8, section 3395 (Heat Illness Prevention) contains the heat illness standard. In general, California’s heat illness prevention standards require employers with “outdoor places of employment” to:

  • Provide ready access to plenty of free, cool, fresh and pure water. Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least one quart per hour, or four eight-ounce glasses of water per hour, and encourage them to do so.
  • Provide a shaded area for workers to cool down when temperatures exceed 80 degrees.
  • Follow high-heat procedures when temperatures reach 95 degrees or higher (for employers in specific industries).
  • Institute and follow acclimatization procedures (where the body adjusts to increased exposure to heat).
  • Monitor weather.
  • Train workers and supervisors about heat illness and how to prevent it.
  • Prepare a Heat Illness Prevention Plan, including implementing emergency-response procedures, and train workers on steps to take if someone gets sick.

This is just a general overview of the very specific heat illness requirements. HRCalifornia provides more information on the heat illness standard and a sample Heat Illness Prevention Plan (available in English and Spanish). Cal/OSHA also provides educational tools for employers.

Failure to comply with California’s heat illness standards can result in Cal/OSHA citations, fines and even stop-work orders that shut down your operations.

Outdoor Workplaces

Because the heat illness standards are so detailed, it’s important to understand when you might be required to comply. The heat illness standard applies to all outdoor places of employment. But what does this mean?

Sometimes the answer is obvious. For example, outdoor places of employment clearly include open spaces: agricultural fields, road work and landscaping, and construction sites. Other obvious examples, according to Cal/OSHA, include forests, parks, equipment and storage yards, outdoor utility installations and tarmacs.

Outdoor areas, such as loading docks that are adjacent to buildings, are also considered outdoor places of employment “if an employee spends a significant amount of time working in them.” Exactly how much time must be spent working outdoors before the heat illness rules apply is still a gray area that has yet to be definitively answered in California.

Sometimes, it’s not clear whether a particular workplace is an indoor or outdoor workplace. For instance, a shed with open sides can be an outdoor or indoor workplace depending on the circumstances. As Cal/OSHA notes, a partially open shed can be hotter than the outside environment due to the sun heating the shed, the lack of air circulation or the lack of insulation.

Cal/OSHA explains that it “considers a structure in this category to be an outdoor workplace if it does not significantly reduce the net effect of the environmental risk factors that exist immediately outside of the structure.”

Employers who have questions about whether a particular space will be considered an outdoor workspace should look at what environmental risk factors are at play and whether the space in question minimizes those risk factors.

If the space is considered an outdoor place of employment, the strict heat illness standards apply and failure to comply can result in fines and penalties — not to mention the risk of injury to your workers. Consult legal counsel if you have any questions about whether the heat illness standard covers you.

Safety First

Employers will not want to ignore the affects of heat on indoor workplaces either. California employers, regardless of whether they’re covered by the heat illness prevention standard, are required to provide a safe workplace to their workers and to identify and address workplace hazards.

For instance, imagine you own a warehouse in the Central Valley where summertime temperatures can consistently reach well over 100 degrees. Or let’s say your indoor employees work next to ovens in an area with poor ventilation. Although you are not required to follow the heat illness standards that apply to outdoor places of employment, this does not mean that you are completely off the hook.

CCR Title 8, section 3203, requires employers to establish, implement and maintain an effective Illness and Injury Prevention Program (IIPP). Employers must have written procedures, conduct worksite evaluations, identify and correct worksite hazards, and train employees. These provisions apply to all workplace hazards and to all employees.

“[I]ndoor heat can be a known hazard in the workplace, and under the obligation of the IIPP, employers are required to inform their employees about the hazard and outline the steps taken to mitigate it,” according to Cal/OSHA.

Cal/OSHA prepared an informational piece with recommendations for the prevention of heat illness for indoor working environments.

Best Practices

With rising temperatures on the way, all employers will want to consider the affects that heat may have on worker safety. Employers with outdoor places of employment and subject to the heat illness standard will want to take additional steps:

  • Familiarize themselves with the heat illness standard.
  • Train and educate employees and supervisors on how to recognize, respond to and prevent heat illness and on Cal/OSHA requirements relating to water, shade, cool-down rest periods and acclimatization.
  • Prepare a written heat illness plan tailored to the individual conditions present at their worksite and be ready to produce it to Cal/OSHA upon request.
  • Keep records of their training and other compliance efforts.

Article courtesy of CalChamber’s HR Watchdog.