Preventing Heat Illness: What Employers Need to Know
Summer is quickly approaching and, as always, Cal-OSHA is serious about employers taking an active role in preventing heat illness. Does that mean you need to give your employees the day off and wish them luck at the beach when temperatures rise above 85 degrees? Of course not, although it would certainly endear your employees to you!
But if you want to keep them working and keep Cal-OSHA happy, you do need to remain aware of the requirements for safely conducting business in the heat.
Who do the Requirements Apply to?
If you have employees working outdoors in high heat conditions (anything over 85 degrees) then the Cal-OSHA requirements for preventing heat illness apply to you. Failure to comply with those requirements mean that citations and penalties can and will be assessed.
Water and Shade
Keeping your employees hydrated is the first line of defense in preventing heat illness. By law, you are required to provide your employees with fresh, cool and potable water, enough for each employee to consume at least one quart per hour for the duration of their shift.
As soon as those temperatures reach 85 degrees, shade must also be available. Safe shade zones have to be large enough to allow at least 25 percent of your staff to comfortably lounge without touching each other; personal space is still important, even in shaded cool-down areas! And should an employee request a shaded area, even if temperatures have not yet reached 85 degrees – employers are required to provide that space. So it is always best to think proactively and have the shaded area available at all times.
For the record: telling your employees to seek shade under a tractor or other mobile equipment doesn’t count. Opt for the tent to keep employees happy and to remain within compliance.
New Cool Down Recovery Period Regulations
Along with shade and water, employers have also long been required to provide employees with Cool Down Recovery Periods (CDRPs) in shaded areas or air-conditioned units during high heat conditions. These CDRPs must be no less than 5 minutes and can occur as often as an employee feels is necessary. Employers are allowed to require employees to continue working during CDRPs, so long as the work being conducted can be done in the shaded or air conditioned areas.
Effective January 1, 2014, employers are required to pay one additional hour of pay per employee for each day that CDRPs are not provided. This is an expansion of California Labor Code Section 226.7, which requires the same premium pay for failure to provide meal and rest periods.
As the employer, you are also required to ensure your staff is educated on the risk of heat illness and the ways to remain healthy in high heat conditions. Review Cal-OSHA standards and prepare training materials for your staff on both the requirements and recommendations. Provide tips on recognizing the signs of heat illness so that managers and staff members alike can monitor conditions. And create a written emergency heat plan employees can follow should someone fall ill while working in the heat.
Ignorance is not an excuse for falling out of compliance, so educate yourselves and then spread that awareness to your employees!