Q. Pheww!! I just saw the seven day forecast and there is no relief from the heat in sight! What do I, as an employer, need to do to keep my employees’ temperatures and my litigation risks down during this heat wave?
A. Because of the extensive history of heat related deaths during our Central Valley summers, particularly in the agricultural industry, California has enacted strenuous regulations to ensure employees are kept safe from the heat. Known as the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard, these regulations apply to all outdoor places of employment, while certain industries, including agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil/gas extraction, and transportation, are subject to additional requirements for “high heat procedures.” (See 8 Cal. Code of Regs. § 3395.)
Pursuant to the Heat Illness Prevention Standard, shade is required to be present when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The employer must have one or more areas with shade that can accommodate at least the number of employees on a break at any given time so that they can sit fully shaded. These shaded areas must either be open to the air or provided with ventilation or cooling. The shaded areas must be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working. You must not only allow, but encourage your employees to take “cool-down” breaks for no less than 5 minutes as they feel the need. (See 8 Cal. Code of Regs. § 3395 (d).)
When the temperature exceeds 95 degrees, which is fairly common during our Central Valley summers, additional procedures are required. (See 8 Cal. Code of Regs. § 3395(e).) To that end, you must ensure that a communication system is set up, such as providing each employee with a cell phone, so that employees at the work site can contact a supervisor when necessary. You must also observe employees for signs of heat illness and remind employees throughout the work shift to drink plenty of water. You must also designate one or more employees on each site as authorized to call for medical services. Also, you must ensure that your employees take a minimum ten minute net preventative cool-down rest period every two hours.
Additionally, if you have a new employee, you must monitor him or her very closely for the first 14 days of his or her employment, unless he or she has previously done similar outdoor work for at least 10 of the past 30 days for 4 or more hours per day. (See 8 Cal. Code of Regs. § 3395(g).) All employees must be trained on the risk and symptoms of heat illness, the employer’s procedures for complying with the Heat Illness Prevention Standard, the employer’s procedures for contacting medical services, and the importance of rest and water. (See 8 Cal. Code of Regs. § 3395(h).) You must have your company’s Heat Illness Prevention Plan available in English and Spanish at an employee’s request.
As the Central Valley heats up, so does your risk of liability. Protect yourself with nothing less than 60 SPF and follow these procedures. And, as always, contact your employment law attorneys with any questions – don’t let their pasty computer tans fool you – they know how to deal with the heat.
This Legal Update / Bulletin is for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. The hypothetical question is posed to illustrate a point and does not contemplate all potential legal considerations This update should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.