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Room for Improvement: Heat Illness Prevention Rules May See Updates Soon

Posted on Feb 20, 2014
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Heat HazeThis summer is predicted by weather experts to be the hottest on record. And while California's current heat illness prevention standard has led to improvements in those industries covered by the rules, workers are still suffering from heat hazards.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) has drafted language for possible changes to the state’s heat illness prevention standard, drawing on comments from labor and worker groups, as well as employers and industry representatives.

DOSH held a stakeholder meeting in Oakland on February 3, 2014 to get feedback on the proposed changes and discuss how these regulations can be improved.

In general, the draft revisions seek to improve the standard in the following ways:

  • Requiring closer access to water and shade;

  • Strengthening the Heat Illness Prevention Program, which is the plan that employers must have in place to identify and correct hazards, provide training, and other responsibilities;

  • Providing time for heat rest breaks; and

  • Clarifying who should be in charge when there is an emergency related to heat illness and what steps should be taken.

While the draft proposal is not part of a formal rulemaking process, Cal/OSHA is accepting comments until February 24, 2014.

Some employers and industry representatives criticized the draft language, saying that requirements specific to agricultural workers are not reasonable for non-agricultural industries to which the heat illness standard applies. Some argued that the standard is working, or that targeted enforcement and worker education under the current standard are what’s needed.

Others opposed requirements for heat rest breaks, saying that workers would not want to take breaks. Worker advocates protested this point, noting that farm workers rely on piece-rate pay, which is a strong disincentive to taking breaks.

The standard can and should be improved. Workers are still falling ill and dying at work from heat illness, even when employers follow the current standard. If water and shade are closer, then workers can take the time to access these. Workers also need to be encouraged to take breaks, and when the responsibility is on the employer to provide these breaks, workers are more likely to break for rest and water without fear of reprisal for taking these simple steps that can save lives.

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