Cal/OSHA Under Fire for Heat Deaths

In 2005, California was the first state to adopt specific rules requiring employers to provide shade, rest, and water for outdoor workers. But the agency has been drawing heat over the last several years for an alleged failure to meaningfully enforce these regulations. The DIR Deputy Director for Communications did the agency no favors by providing conflicting information to Cal-OSHA Reporter’s staff last year. First, the Department offered an explanation (some would say an excuse) for why heat inspections had dropped substantially in 2011. Then, the department back-tracked to say that heat inspections hadactually increased from 2010 to 2011. It’s still unclear whether the actual number of inspections was 1,090 as the department originally suggested or the revised number of 3,301 as later stated.

Litigation Already Underway

An ongoing lawsuit from 2009 accuses DOSH of failing to perform inspections after being notified of violations and of not penalizing employers effectively. In 2012, a similar lawsuit was filed by the United Farm Workers of America and family members of farmworkers who died of heat-related illness. The UFW claims that Cal/OSHA did not attempt an on-site inspection for 55 out of 78 serious safety violation complaints and only issued citations for violation in 3 of the remaining cases. This is in spite of the fact that the agency’s own data apparently shows that 1 in 4 worksites inspected in 2011 were not in compliance with heat safety rules. DOSH complains that such litigation will deplete the agency’s already meager resources and simply make the problem of too few inspections worse.

Compliance on the Rise?

Although Cal/OSHA has a long way to go, compliance has actually increased overall since the heat safety rules were initially instituted. This is an encouraging sign. It means employers are doing a better job of ensuring workplace safety even if enforcement seems lax. That’s a testament to the power of education and awareness in improving working conditions. Some of the most powerful tools available for helping you keep your outdoor workers safe and healthy in the heat this summer will be the free resources available directly from Cal/OSHA. You can also benefit from a professional consultation to ensure that your heat safety program is properly implemented for your workforce.