Question:

I have a number of employees who work outside either part or most of the workday. Does California law require employee protection from heat exposure?

Answer:

Yes. All employers with “outdoor places of employment”, such as agricultural fields, forests, parks, and equipment and storage yards, must implement certain safety measures to prevent heat illnesses. Also, outdoor areas adjacent to buildings, such as loading docks, are also considered outdoor places of employment if employees spend a significant amount of time working there.

First, employers with outdoor places of employment must provide a sufficient quantity of water to employees at the beginning of a work shift. The amount of water is one quart per employee per hour. Two gallons are required for employees working an eight-hour shift. If water is not otherwise continuously available (i.e., if employees are working where there is no source of potable water), the employer must provide one quart per hour for drinking during the employee’s entire shift. Employers are also required to encourage employees to frequently drink water.

Second, employers must maintain one or more areas with shade at all times while employees are present when the outdoor temperature exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The shaded area must be either open to the air or provided with ventilation or cooling. The amount of shade present—which includes natural areas of shade, such as trees—must be sufficient to accommodate 25% of the employees on the shift at any time so that they can sit in a normal posture fully in the shade without having to be in physical contact with each other. When the temperature does not exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit, employers must provide prompt access to shade when requested by an employee. Shade is defined as blockage of direct sunlight and excludes areas where the heat in the area of the shade defeats the purpose of the shade, for example, sitting in a car, unless the air conditioning is running, or in a shed without adequate ventilation.

Third, the employer must train its 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 regulation; (3) the importance of drinking water; (4) the importance of acclimatization (adjusting from cooler to warmer conditions and vice versa); (4) the types, signs and symptoms of heat illness; (5) the importance of immediately reporting the signs and symptoms of heat illness to a supervisor; (6) the employer’s procedures for responding to symptoms of heat illness, and (7) 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.)

Fourth, supervisors must be trained in the employer’s procedures to implement these regulations and the procedures to follow when an employee exhibits symptoms of heat illness, including emergency response procedures.

Finally, employers must develop a written heat prevention plan and are strongly encourage to distribute the plan to employees and include it in their employee handbook. Employers may purchase posters discussing heat illness and Cal-OSHA’s requirements. These posters are available from a variety of commercial publishers, including the California Chamber of Commerce.

For additional information, please visit Cal-OSHA’s website,
http://www.dir.ca.gov/DOSH/HeatIllnessInfo.html.
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