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Your obligation to protect your company’s workers in the California heat

On Behalf of | Aug 19, 2021 | CAL/OSHA

As the summers get hotter, it’s more important than ever for California employers to take the necessary precautions to keep their outdoor workers safe. The heat and sun can have devastating (even fatal) effects on the human body.

As far back as 2005, California established the first state standard in the country to protect those who work outside from those effects. The standard applies to all outdoor employees, whether they’re working in a field, at a construction site or on a movie set.

What does the law require?

Following is a very brief overview of some of the key requirements:

  • Water: Workers must have access to free, fresh, “suitably cool” drinking water at no cost. If it’s not readily available, they must be provided at least a quart per hour during their shift.
  • Rest: Workers must be allowed to take cooldown breaks of at least five minutes in areas where there’s shade. If they’re showing signs of heat illness, they can’t be required to return to work until those signs have abated. Farmworkers are allowed longer and more frequent rest periods when the temperature exceeds 95 degrees.
  • Shade: At least one area of shade has to be available for workers if the temperature exceeds 80 degrees unless they have alternative cooling measures like misting machines.
  • Monitoring: Supervisors are required to closely monitor their workers for signs of heat illness any time the temperature is over 80 degrees or at least 10 degrees higher than the past five days. They need to know the symptoms of heat illness and provide immediate first aid or get emergency help when someone displays those signs.
  • Training and prevention: Employers must have a written heat illness prevention plan and provide training to their employees on their rights. They must also train them to recognize the symptoms of heat illness in themselves and others.

Certainly, many businesses in California would grind to a halt if they weren’t able to do work outdoors in the scorching heat. However, it’s essential to make sure that all of your supervisors know the law and enforce it. A claim of wrongfully subjecting workers to unsafe heat conditions or retaliating against a worker who reports unsafe conditions can have a devastating effect on a business’s bottom line and its reputation.