As the first major heat wave of the season sends temperatures across California into the 100s, Cal/OSHA reminds all employers to review high temperature advisories and warnings in effect throughout the week — and to protect their outdoor workers from heat illness while also taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Heat illness occurs when the body’s temperature control system is incapable of maintaining an acceptable temperature. While the body typically cools itself by sweating, high temperatures and humidity prevent the body from efficiently releasing heat, so body temperature can rise quickly. Because very high body temperatures can damage the brain and other vital organs, and may eventually lead to death, it’s imperative that employers with outdoor workers take several precautions to protect those workers.
California’s heat illness prevention standard applies to all outdoor workers, as well as those who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors, such as security guards and groundskeepers, or in non-air-conditioned vehicles, such as delivery drivers.
To prevent heat illness, employers with outdoor workers must:
- Develop and implement an effective, written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
- Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention.
- Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so each worker can drink at least one quart per hour — and encourage workers to do so.
- Provide shade when workers request it or when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating. Workers should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.
Visit Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention webpage for details on heat illness prevention requirements and training materials, and check out Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention eTool for real-world examples of heat illness and sample procedures for heat illness prevention.
Heat Illness During COVID-19
Because COVID-19 is still widespread and considered a workplace hazard, Cal/OSHA notes that employers should allow enough space and time for employees to take breaks as needed in adequate shade while also maintaining a safe distance from one another. Extra infection prevention measures — such as disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, including the water and restroom facilities — should be in place.
And while employers should provide cloth face coverings to help prevent COVID-19’s spread (or allow workers to use their own), wearing such face coverings can make it more difficult to breathe and harder for a worker to cool off, so additional breaks may be needed to prevent overheating. Cal/OSHA specifically states that, at this time, agricultural and other outdoor workers are not encouraged to use surgical or respirator masks as face coverings.
Jessica Mulholland, Managing Editor, CalChamber