The heat is on in California: heat illness prevention requirements for outdoor work sites

With the heat of summer in full swing, California employers with employees who work outdoors may want to review their practices to ensure that they are complying with Cal/OSHA’s heat illness prevention requirements, says the National Law Review.

Covered employers in the state of California must provide water to employees working outdoors. This water must be provided to employees “free of charge” and also must be “fresh, pure, [and] suitably cool.” The employer must provide each employee with at least “one quart [of water] per employee per hour of work.”

Covered California employers are also required to provide actual shade for employees. Shade is required when the temperature in the work area exceeds 80 degrees. Enough shade must be provided so that employees on rest or meal periods can sit normally without touching each other. The law also requires that employers provide “timely access to shade upon an employee’s request” even if the temperature does not exceed 80 degrees.

Under the law, ‘“[s]hade’ means blockage of direct sunlight … Shade is not adequate when heat in the area of shade defeats the purpose of shade, which is to allow the body to cool … Shade may be provided by any natural or artificial means that does not expose employees to unsafe or unhealthy conditions and that does not deter or discourage access or use.”

High-Heat Procedures

  • Covered California employers must implement “high-heat procedures” when the temperature equals or exceeds 95 degrees. Some of those procedures include:
  • ensuring effective communication perhaps using electronic means
  • observing employees by assigning someone to monitor them for symptoms of heat illness or implementing a buddy system
  • reminding employees to drink the fresh, pure, and suitably cool water you have provided for them
  • conducting pre-shift meetings to discuss high-heat procedures.

Emergency Response Procedures
Covered employers must have an emergency plan in place in case of heat illness. The employer must have a reliable means of summoning emergency services. When contact is established, the employer must ensure that clear and precise directions to the work site can be provided to emergency responders. If necessary, the employer should be prepared to transport the employee to a place where he or she can be reached by an emergency medical provider. If an employee has signs of severe heat illness, the employer must implement the emergency response procedure.

Employers in California are required by law to let employees “acclimatize,” or get used to working in the heat, while being closely monitored. California law requires that an employee who has been newly assigned to a high-heat area be closely observed by a supervisor or designee for the first 14 days of the employee’s employment. Even if the employee is not new, the law requires that all employees shall be closely observed by a supervisor or designee during a heat wave. A “heat wave” means “any day in which the predicted high temperature for the day will be at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit and at least ten degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average high daily temperature in the preceding five days.”

Heat Illness Prevention Plan
Covered employers must develop and implement written, effective heat illness prevention plans. A plan should include procedures for providing sufficient water, procedures for providing access to shade; high-heat procedures; emergency response procedures; and acclimatization methods and procedures.

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