OSHA Issues High Heat Alert in California
On June 1, 2016, The California Occupational Safety and Health Division issued a high heat advisory, warning employers to protect their outdoor workers from heat illness as temperatures hit extreme highs this week. The heat advisory stated that there is a prediction that temperatures will be well over 100 degrees in many locations, including the greater San Diego area and the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles and even in some cities that are normally cooler in the San Francisco Bay Area such as Concord and Walnut Creek. Last year the state adopted a new Heat Illness Prevention regulation changing the requirements for potable water, shade, cool-down periods, high-heat procedures, emergency preparedness, acclimatization, training, and heat illness prevention plans. Employers should re-train their employees for compliance. The many requirements of the heat regulation have created a large wave of serious and serious accident-related citations.
Potable Water Requirements
Employers must provide employees with access to potable drinking water that is clean and maintained through individual dispensers, faucets, or drinking fountains. The employer must either provide sufficient amounts of water at the beginning of the shift or continuously replenish the employee’s water supply, especially if the employees work off-site. The employer must provide each employee with a minimum of one quart of water per hour for the entire shift.
Water should be fresh, pure, suitably cool, and provided free of charge to employees and should be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working, unless the employer can demonstrate infeasibility.
Employers must provide shade when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the shaded area must be large enough to accommodate all employees on recovery or rest periods. Further, employers must provide enough shade to accommodate all employees taking on-site meal breaks. In addition, the shaded area must be located as close as practicable to the areas in which employees are working.
Preventive Cool-Down Rest Periods
The heat illness regulation requires employers to allow and encourage employees to take a minimum of five minutes for a cool-down rest period if they feel they are in danger of overheating. Employers must also monitor and ask an employee taking a cool-down rest period whether he or she is experiencing symptoms of heat illness. Employers are expected to encourage employees on such breaks to remain in the shade, as needed. Employers are prohibited from ordering employees to work until signs or symptoms of heat illness have abated.
This week California is experiencing high heat conditions. Employers must implement high-heat procedures when the temperature is at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Employers must ensure that there is effective communication between supervisors and employees and observe employees for alertness and signs or symptoms of heat illness.
Employers must institute one of the following procedures: (1) a one-supervisor-to-20-or-fewer-employees ratio, (2) a mandatory buddy system, (3) regular communication through electronic device routine with each employee, or (4) another effective means of communication. Employers also are obligated to designate at least one employee at each worksite as authorized individuals for emergency medical services. If no designee is on shift, employers must instruct other employees to call for required emergency services.
Employers should always conduct pre-shift meetings during high heat conditions. The shift meetings should review high heat procedures, encourage employees to drink plenty of water, and remind employees of their right to take a cool-down rest break when needed.
Agricultural employers must also provide employees with 10-minute cool-down rest periods every 2 hours.
Emergency Preparedness Requirements
High-heat emergency response preparedness requirements must include: (1) an effective communication with employees by voice, observation, or electronic means; (2) an effective response with first aid measures; and (3) procedures for contacting emergency responders to help stricken workers.
Employers must assign supervisors to observe and monitor employees closely during a heat wave. A “heat wave” is “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.” Employers should monitor employees closely this week because we are in the first 14 days of high-heat conditions.
Remember to train your employees on all heat policies and remind them about the signs of heat illness. Also remember to re-train employees about: water, shade, cool-down rests, and access to first aid; their right to take breaks without fear of retaliation; first aid and emergency response procedures; and concepts and methods of acclimatization.