California received a lot of wet weather recently, a good thing for a state that was hit hard by drought. Yet, warmer temperatures soon will arrive, and employers with an outdoor workforce need to plan ahead to prevent heat illness.

California’s strict heat illness standards require employers to take a multi-faceted approach to protect outdoor workers from heat illness — including preventative measures, planning and training. Cal/OSHA, otherwise known as the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, enforces California’s standards, the most extensive in the country.

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.

“Cal/OSHA continues to enforce the nation’s most comprehensive heat illness prevention regulation, and we will continue our outreach, consultation and training for workers and employers to ensure that workers are protected from the heat,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum, in a statement.

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

Heat Illness Is a Serious Matter

Heat illness is a serious medical condition that occurs when the body’s temperature control system can’t maintain an acceptable internal temperature. The body normally cools itself by sweating, but during hot weather, especially with high humidity, sweating isn’t enough, and a person’s body temperature can quickly rise to a dangerous level.

Many factors can cause the medical conditions that lead to heat illness:

  • Exposure to high air temperature and relative humidity;
  • Exposure to radiant heat from the sun and other heat sources;
  • Conductive heat sources, such as the ground;
  • An employee’s workload, including severity and duration;
  • Wearing bulky protective clothing and/or personal protective equipment;
  • Limited air movement; or
  • Conditions unique to the employee, such as age, weight, medications and illness.

Employers and employees should be aware of the two types of heat illness: heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Numerous signs and symptoms point to either type of heat illness. Employees should be trained to recognize any signs and symptoms and understand that early signs may rapidly develop into more serious conditions. All signs and symptoms should be taken seriously and reported to a supervisor. If left untreated, very high body temperatures might damage the brain and other vital organs and ultimately cause a person’s death.

The Basics

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 standard requires 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 employees 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, a sample Heat Illness Prevention Plan — Outdoor Employees (available in English and Spanish), and information on the significant changes to the heat illness regulations implemented in May 2015.

Education and Enforcement

Cal/OSHA provides educational tools for employers, including statewide annual trainings conducted in both English and Spanish, pocket guides, webinars and training materials.

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.

Cal/OSHA’s prevention approach includes targeted enforcement inspections at outdoor worksites in certain industries, such as agriculture, landscaping and construction, during heat season. These inspections ensure compliance with the heat illness prevention standard and the injury and illness prevention standard.

The most frequent violation cited during targeted heat inspections is failing to have a proper written heat illness prevention plan specific to the worksite, according to Cal/OSHA. Serious violations are often related to inadequate access to water and shade and to a lack of supervisor and employee training.

Cal/OSHA encourages employers and worker supervisors to learn more about the standard to remain in compliance.

Cal/OSHA also issued a Heat Illness Prevention Enforcement Q&A which provides information regarding how Cal/OSHA interprets the heat illness standard and enforces the law.

Outdoor vs. Indoor Workplaces

Because the heat illness standards are so detailed, it’s important to understand when you might be required to comply. Under current law, the heat illness standard applies only to outdoor places of employment. However, legislation enacted in 2016 requires Cal/OSHA to develop heat-illness rules for indoor workers by January 1, 2019. Cal/OSHA has begun the process of drafting these rules.

Is it always easy to know what defines an outdoor vs. an indoor workplace? Sometimes it’s obvious. For example, outdoor places of employment clearly include open spaces, such as agricultural fields, road work and landscaping, and construction sites.

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.

If the space is considered an outdoor place of employment, the strict heat illness standards apply and noncompliance 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.

Although Cal/OSHA doesn’t need to propose the indoor heat illness standard until 2019, you should not ignore the effects of heat on indoor workplaces.

California employers, regardless of whether they are covered by the current heat illness prevention standard, must:

  • Provide a safe workplace to their workers,
  • Identify and address workplace hazards; and
  • Maintain an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP).

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.

“[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.

Best Practices

With rising temperatures on the way, all employers will want to consider the effects 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.

Content courtesy of CalChamber