As temperatures start to rise across the state, Cal/OSHA reminds employers to protect outdoor workers from heat illness.
Heat illness is a serious hazard for people who work outdoors. Heat illness occurs when the body’s temperature control system cannot maintain an acceptable temperature. Usually, the body cools itself by sweating. However, when high temperatures and humidity prevent the body from efficiently releasing heat, body temperature can rise quickly, causing numerous medical symptoms. Very high body temperatures can damage the brain and other vital organs, and eventually lead to death.
“When it comes to preventing heat illness, employers with outdoor workers should not wait until it gets hot to review their procedures and ensure their training is effective,” said Cal/OSHA Heat and Agriculture Program Coordinator David Hornung in a press release. “Workers should know the signs and symptoms of heat illness and what to do in case someone gets sick. This helps prevent serious and fatal heat illnesses while working outdoors.”
Employers must take the following precautions:
- Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention.
- Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least 1 quart per hour, or four 8-ounce glasses of water per hour, and encourage them to do so.
- Provide access to shade and encourage employees to take a cool‐down rest in the shade for at least 5 minutes. Employees should not wait until they feel sick to cool down. Shade structures must be in place upon request or when temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Closely observe all employees during a heat wave and any employee newly assigned to a high heat area. Lighter work, frequent breaks or shorter hours will help employees who have not worked in high temperatures previously to adapt to the new conditions.
- Develop and implement written procedures for complying with the Cal/OSHA heat illness prevention standard, including plans on how to handle medical emergencies and steps to take if someone shows signs or symptoms of heat illness.
During enforcement inspections, Cal/OSHA cites failure to have an effective written heat illness prevention plan specific to the worksite as the most frequent heat-related violation. Serious heat-related violations are often related to inadequate access to water and shade, and to a lack of supervisor and employee training.
Cal/OSHA provides online information on heat illness prevention requirements and training materials, and has extensive multilingual materials for employers, workers and trainers on its “Water. Rest. Shade.” public awareness campaign website. The agency also offers a Heat Illness Prevention e-tool with real world examples of heat illness and best practices for an effective heat illness prevention plan.
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.
Katie Culliton, Editor, CalChamber