WORKPLACE LAW – Heat Illness Prevention

QUESTION: My company has a Heat Illness Prevention Plan in accordance with Cal/OSHA requirements, but the required trainings take time out of the day when my employees could be working. Is heat illness really that serious?

ANSWER: Heat illness can progress to heat stroke and be fatal, especially when emergency treatment is delayed. California law requires that employers develop, put into writing, and implement effective procedures for a Heat Illness Prevention Plan. Employers must also train all employees and supervisors about identifying heat illness because being prepared can save lives.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA”) provides several real life examples of the dangers of heat illness and the importance of being prepared. For example, an employee working on a rooftop began to feel weak and was acting confused. The coworkers, trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stroke and emergency response procedures, quickly removed the employee from the roof, sprayed him down with water, and called 911. When the employee arrived at the hospital, his internal body temperature was 106.7 degrees Fahrenheit, his heart rate was 122 bpm, and he was diagnosed with heat stroke. Although the employee survived, he had significant damage to his kidneys, liver, and muscles. While this is an extreme example, it does describe how serious heat illness can quickly become.

Employers with employees who work outdoors are required to take the following 4 steps to prevent heat illness:
(1) train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention;
(2) provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least 1 quart per hour, and encourage them to do so;
(3) provide access to shade and encourage employees to take a cool-down rest in the shade, with pay, for at least 5 minutes – they should not wait until they feel sick to cool down; and
(4) implement a written heat illness prevention plan in English and in the language understood by the majority of the employees.

Employee trainings should include 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.

Further, Cal/OSHA is in the process of proposing heat illness and injury prevention standards for indoor worksites based on environmental temperatures, work activity levels, and other factors. The proposal is due by January 1, 2019, so check back next year for additional requirements that apply to indoor worksites.

In preparation for the summer heat, employers should make sure their Heat Illness Prevention Programs are up to date and ensure all supervisors and employees are properly trained. The heat illness prevention standards set forth in the California Code of Regulations can be found at https://www.dir.ca.gov/Title8/3395.html.