It’s Hot, Hot, Hot! Cal/OSHA Stresses Heat Illness Prevention as Central Valley Swelters

Cal/OSHA recommends all outdoor workers drink at least one quart of water every hour.
Cal/OSHA recommends all outdoor workers drink at least one quart of water every hour.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) reminds employers to observe outdoor employees for signs and symptoms of heat illness. The National Weather Service is forecasting dangerous heat in much of the Central Valley for the rest of this week.

Heat illness occurs when the body’s temperature control system cannot maintain an acceptable temperature. Under normal circumstances, the body cools itself by sweating. However, when high temperatures and high humidity prevent the body from releasing heat efficiently, a person’s body temperature can rise quickly.

Heat illness symptoms include headache, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, cramps, exhaustion and fainting.

Progression to serious illness can be rapid, so all signs or symptoms must be taken seriously. If left untreated, very high body temperatures might damage the brain and other vital organs and ultimately cause a person’s death

“It is important for those who work outdoors, especially during heat waves, to know how to protect themselves from heat illness said Juliann Sum, chief of Cal/OSHA, in a statement.

Workers with existing health problems or medical conditions, such as diabetes, that reduce tolerance to heat need to be extra vigilant. Some high blood pressure and anti-inflammatory medications can also increase a worker’s risk for heat illness.

As Cal/OSHA notes, staying properly hydrated throughout the workday is one of the most effective heat illness prevention techniques. Employers must provide a sufficient amount of water for each employee to drink a quart for each hour of the shift. Cal/OSHA encourages all workers to drink at least one quart of water every hour, preferably sipping an 8-ounce cup of water every 15 minutes.

Drinks such as soda, sports drinks, coffee, energy drinks or iced tea are not recommended for hydration. Also, the lingering effects of alcoholic beverages can contribute to quickly dehydrating the body in hot weather.

Employees must be allowed and encouraged to take a preventative cool-down rest in the shade when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating. Employers must meet all other basic steps found in California’s heat illness regulation.

In addition, when temperatures soar 95 degrees or hotter, additional precautions are required of employers in certain industries, such as agriculture and construction. These measures include actively observing and monitoring workers for early signs of heat illness. This helps ensure sick workers are immediately treated and can prevent serious illness or death.

Cal/OSHA inspects outdoor worksites in agriculture, construction, landscaping and other operations throughout the heat season.

Cal/OSHA provides information on heat illness prevention requirements and training materials on its Heat Illness Prevention web page and the Water. Rest. Shade. campaign site. A Heat Illness Prevention e-tool is also available on Cal/OSHA’s website.

Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Employment Law Counsel/Content

CalChamber members can use the Heat Illness Prevention Plan – Outdoor Employees to develop your company’s plan and procedures for complying with Cal/OSHA regulations on heat illness for outdoor workers. The form is also available in Spanish. Not a member? See how CalChamber can help you.

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