Thousands of California farm, construction and other outdoor workers will soon be laboring under the hot sun, in 90-plus-degree temperatures.
When temperatures and humidity rise, outdoor workers risk heat-related illness, which can be fatal. Heat stroke, caused by overexposure to the sun, is the most severe form of heat illness. Symptoms include elevated body temperature, confusion, inability to sweat and nausea.
The state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, commonly known as Cal/OSHA, launched its 2013 Heat Illness Prevention Program to educate workers and employers on the dangers associated with heat exposure at outdoor worksites. The program’s goal is to prevent heat illness throughout California by encouraging greater compliance with the state’s workplace-safety regulations, Cal/OSHA said.
Enforcement, outreach and training are among the program’s approaches to educating workers and employers on the dangers of heat illness.
“By following the basic preventive measures of providing adequate water, rest, shade, training and emergency procedures at every outdoor worksite, we can avoid needless tragedies and make sure workers go home healthy after a hard day’s work,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess.
California has the largest number of agricultural workers in the United States, and heat-illness cases on California farms occur at a rate three times higher than in all of the state’s other industries combined, according to state data.
Cal/OSHA conducts more than 3,000 worksite heat inspections statewide each year. Steep fines and workplace shutdowns can result from inspectors finding worksites without water or shade on a hot day. Inspections at outdoor worksites in agriculture, construction, landscaping and other industries will continue throughout the heat season, the agency said.
California’s Heat Illness Prevention standard was enacted in 2006. The state’s “Water/Rest/Shade” campaign includes communications in Spanish, Punjabi, Hmong and Mixteco.
The campaign’s main points include:
- Training all employees and supervisors about heat-illness prevention.
- Providing enough cool, potable drinking water at no cost to employees, and encouraging workers to drink water frequently.
- Providing a shaded area for workers to take a cool-down break.
- Ensuring that workers, especially new ones, are given enough time to acclimatize to the heat.
- Preparing an emergency heat-illness-prevention plan for the worksite, with training for supervisors and workers on coming to the aid of anyone who exhibits symptoms of heat illness.
The state’s heat-illness-prevention requirements were strengthened in 2010 to include a high-heat provision that five industries—agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction, and transportation/delivery of agricultural products—must implement whenever the temperature reaches 95 degrees. These requirements include observing employees, closely supervising new workers and reminding all workers to drink water throughout their shift.
These are the most important requirements for employers:
- Once the temperature exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit, employers must have shaded areas available. If the temperature is lower, they must have shade available if a worker asks for it. Employers are required to provide shade to any worker who requests it and at least enough shade so that 25 percent of the employees on a shift can sit comfortably without touching one another.
- Employers are required to provide workers with clean, cool drinking water throughout their shift. Even if employees bring their own water, the employer must have enough free water for each worker to drink four cups per hour throughout the workday (the recommended amount). It is best to drink a small amount of water often, say, one cup every 15 minutes, according to Cal/OSHA. Water must always be “readily accessible” and as easy as possible for workers to reach while working. This can vary based on the working conditions and layout of the worksite.
- All supervisors and employees must be trained on heat-illness prevention before working outdoors.
Heat-illness-prevention requirements and training materials are available at Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Web page or at the Water. Rest. Shade. campaign site.
Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Program provides free, voluntary assistance to employers and employee organizations to improve their health and safety programs. For assistance, employers should call (800) 963-9424.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.
Farmworkers’ Suit Alleges Cal/OSHA Failed to Enforce Heat Rules, SHRM Online Safety & Security, October 2012
Beating the Heat at Work, SHRM Online Safety & Security, May 2012
Mantra for Outdoor Workers: Water. Rest. Shade., SHRM Online Safety & Security, May 2011
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