WORKPLACE LAW – Heat Illness Prevention

Question: My employees work outside for part of the work day and perform the rest of their duties inside. Do I need to do anything to protect my employees from possible heat exposure?

Answer: As the weather warms up it is important that California employers review their workplace heat illness policies. In general, California’s heat illness prevention standard requires employers with “outdoor places of employment” to provide employees with ready access to plenty of free, cool, fresh and pure water. An employer must 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. That means each employee will need two gallons for an eight-hour shift. The water must be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working and must be fit to drink. Employers are also required to encourage employees to frequently drink water.

Employers must provide a shaded area for workers to cool down when temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Shade must be easy for employees to reach and workers should not encounter any obstacles or hazardous or unreasonably unpleasant conditions while moving towards the shade or resting in the shade. The amount of shade present must be sufficient to accommodate the number of employees on recovery or rest periods so that they can sit in a normal posture fully in the shade without having to be in physical contact with each other. Additionally, subject to the same specifications, the amount of shade present during meal periods shall be at least enough to accommodate the number of employees on the meal period who remain onsite. If the temperature is less than 80 degrees, employers must still provide access to shade if requested by an employee.

Employers with employees who work outdoors must have a written heat illness prevention plan in English and in the language understood by the majority of the employees. They are also required to train employees on the following: (1) the environmental and personal risk factors of heat illness; (2) the employer’s procedures for complying with the heat illness prevention regulations; (3) the importance of drinking water; (4) the importance of acclimatization (adjusting from cooler to warmer conditions and vice versa); (5) the types, signs and symptoms of heat illness; (6) the importance of immediately reporting the signs and symptoms of heat illness to a supervisor; (7) the employer’s procedures for responding to symptoms of heat illness, and (8) the employer’s procedures for contacting emergency service providers and transporting employees for emergency services as necessary (such as how to provide directions to the worksite for emergency medical personnel.) Additional rules apply when the temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

California employers will soon be required to provide certain protections against heat-illness for employees working indoors as well. Last year Governor Brown signed SB 1167 which directs the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA”) to draft and propose heat illness and injury prevention standards for indoor worksites by January 1, 2019 based on environmental temperatures, work activity levels, and other factors.

Be sure to take precautions to protect outdoor workers from heat exposure and illness, and stay tuned for new regulations applicable to employees who work indoors.