Heat Is on for California Worker Protections

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By Bruce Rolfsen

The heat is on for California businesses and workers as state officials write a safety rule protecting workers from high heat in indoor workplaces.

Under the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) proposal, state employers will have to implement a written heat illness prevention plan that could be part of a workplace’s already required illness and injury prevention program, which covers all types of risks.

The latest version of the proposed rule, released May 11, sets 85 degrees as the trigger temperature for employers to initiate precautions such as encouraging workers to take cool-down rest breaks and provide free, cool water. The rule is expected to have the greatest impact on warehouses, restaurant kitchens, bakeries, recycling plants and foundries.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t have a heat stress rule. Instead, federal OSHA relies on the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requiring employers to protect workers from foreseeable hazards, to cite employers for heat-related injuries and deaths.

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Research by OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found workers are most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses during their initial days on the job. An OSHA study of 13 deaths where citations were issued showed nine of the deaths occurred during the first three days on the job.

An earlier version of the proposed rule set the trigger at 80 or 90 degrees, depending on how hard physical labor was—something the new rule doesn’t take into consideration.

Worksafe, an advocacy group for protecting the state’s workers, believes the new draft simplifies the rule at the expense of employees, Executive Director Doug Parker told Bloomberg BNA May 16.

A worksite’s heat index could reach 100 degrees without the employer being required to initiate precautions, Parker said. The group is also concerned that requirements for acclimatizing employees were reduces, staff attorney Tim Shadix said.

But, the California Chamber of Commerce earlier told the state that the February proposal was “overly complex and confusing” for employers to comply with. Christine Haddon, deputy director of communications for the chamber, told Bloomberg BNA May 15 the advocacy group was reviewing the May version of the proposed rule and wasn’t ready to comment.

Cal/OSHA is aiming to have a final rule in effect by Jan. 1, 2019. The agency initiated the rulemaking after the state legislature passed a law (S.B. 1167) last year mandating state worker safety agencies draft and approve an indoor heat rule.

A Cal/OSHA advisory board is set to discuss the proposed rule on May 25.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

For More Information

Rule and meeting details are available at http://src.bna.com/oSb

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