Summer in California often means excessive heat warnings throughout the state; therefore, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) reminds all employers to prepare to protect outdoor workers from heat illness. Heat illness is more likely to occur when workers aren’t accustomed to working at full capacity in the hot weather, so preparation is an important part of staying safe.
Heat illness occurs when the body’s temperature control system can’t maintain an acceptable temperature. While the body usually cools itself by sweating, high temperatures and humidity prevent the body from efficiently releasing heat so 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.
California’s heat illness prevention standard requires employers to closely observe outdoor workers when assigned to work in a high heat area for the first time. Cal/OSHA’s heat illness prevention requirements apply to all outdoor workers, which includes those that spend a significant amount of time working outdoors in agriculture, construction, landscaping, maintenance and transportation, as well as delivery drivers in non-air conditioned vehicles and more.
Employers with outdoor workers must take the following steps to prevent heat illness:
- Plan — Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
- Train — Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention.
- Water — Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so that each worker can drink at least 1 quart per hour, and encourage workers to do so.
- Rest — Encourage workers to protect themselves from overheating by taking a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes when they feel the need to do so. Workers shouldn’t wait until they feel sick to cool down.
- Shade — Provide proper shade when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Workers have the right to request and be provided shade to cool off at any time.
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.
Katie Culliton, Editor, CalChamber
CalChamber members can use the Heat Illness Prevention Plan – Outdoor Employees to develop their 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.