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California Heat Standard Gets an Upgrade

Posted on Feb 26, 2015
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OHIP_farmworkers_heat_250x250Worksafe and Labor Coalition Win Improved Protections in Revised Heat Standard

Last week, by a 5-1 vote, the California OSH Standards Board approved major revisions to Cal/OSHA’s heat illness prevention standard. Because the next heat season is almost upon us, the new provisions may go into effect as early as April 1, 2015, instead of following the normal wait time, which would take us well into the summer. Employers will have to revise their written programs and train workers on the new provisions before then.

Worksafe led the multi-year effort to bring together the voices of organized labor, farmworker organizations, and public health experts to support the proposal by Cal/OSHA enforcement staff, who argued that they needed clearer and stronger language to reduce the rate of heat-related illnesses and fatalities in the state.

A series of advisory committee meetings convened by Cal/OSHA in 2013 and 2014 led to a draft standard that was debated at the Standards Board public hearing last September; Cal/OSHA revised the proposed standard two more times before the final vote on February 19th.

The new changes will require employers to:

• Closely observe new employees during their first two weeks working in a high heat area, as well as all employees during heat waves;

• Provide shade for all workers on a rest or meal break at 80°F (lowered from 85°F), with at least enough shade to accommodate all workers who remain onsite during meal periods;

• Provide water that is “fresh, pure, suitably cool, and provided to employees free of charge” – to stop employers from reportedly providing free water that is warm and undrinkable while selling bottled water kept in coolers;

• Provide water and shade “as close as practicable” to the workers (likely to be interpreted in new Cal/OSHA guidance documents), and encourage people to take preventative cool-down rest breaks in the shade and drink water;

• Implement stronger provisions for five industries when “high heat” conditions kick in a 95°F, including a system to stay in contact with all workers, close observation of those with early signs of heat-related illness, and a mandatory cool-down rest period every two hours for agricultural workers; and

• Develop emergency response procedures, incorporate them into a beefed-up written heat illness prevention plan, and train workers about how to activate them.

The revised standard (General Industry Safety Orders, Section 3395) has not yet been posted, but you can read the approved changes by following this link, and selecting “Text for Board consideration.”

What still needs to be done?
Worksafe supported these improvements to the standard, as well as additional provisions that were not incorporated. For example, we argued that all employees working outside should be covered by the “high heat” provisions of the heat standard, not just those employed in five industries (agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction, and part of transportation).

Protection should be based on the hazard, not your job title, and there are many other workers in high-heat jobs who need protection. The Board heard from some of these workers at the September 2014 public hearing on the proposed standard, including Teamsters who work as UPS drivers and at airports, and a CWA representative who reported that people are expected to keep working in environments that are so hot that their assigned iPads stop functioning.

Ambiguity around what is considered “outdoor work” also needs to be cleared up. For example, it took years for an Appeals Board ruling to determine that bus drivers are covered. Workers going in and out of warehouses or delivery vehicles, or who clean airplanes, are among the many groups of employees who need to know if they are covered.

This reinforces our position that the next logical step is for the Standards Board to set an indoor heat standard, so that all workers will be protected from job-related heat hazards. At the close of the February 19th meeting, Standards Board member Laura Stock made that suggestion. We will be tracking their next steps. In the meantime, we urge you to contact Worksafe to share any information that illustrates why we need an indoor heat standard.

William Jackson, one of two management representatives, is the only member of the board who voted against the standard at the February meeting. Board chair and labor representative Dave Thomas had previously indicated that he had some concerns about the draft. But, Mr. Thomas ultimately supported the proposal, explaining that workers are being pushed to be as productive as possible, which can result in increased pressure to not take extra water and rest breaks even if they begin to have heat illness symptoms. To counter this pressure, workers need a standard that encourages them to take early steps to prevent the rapid escalation of heat illness.

We thank Mr. Thomas and all the members of the Standards Board who donate their time and energy to improve protections for working people, as well as the work of the Cal/OSHA and Standards Board staff.

Thank you also to all of those who joined with us to improve California’s heat illness protections and chart a path to extend those protections to all workers, especially the California Labor Federation and the workers who testified before the Board about their dangerous working conditions, and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF) for their expertise and commitment.

Visit our website archives on heat illness to read more about our work to prevent illness and deaths from this hazard.

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