Heat Illness Standard to Be Revised?

Cal/OSHA is well known for having some of the most thorough protections in place for workers exposed to high temperatures on the job. However, there’s always room for improvement. Now, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) has proposed additional revisions to the existing standard. After creating a draft and meeting with stakeholders in February, DOSH is sending the proposal onward for review by the Standards Board. It’s still a long way from being written into the OSHA books. But it’s a start, and there’s a possibility that things could move rapidly from this point. We’ll be sure to keep you advised of what’s going on.

Why More Regulation?

The sad fact is that workers are still dying of heat related illnesses at work every year. In some cases, this happens when current guidelines are ignored. But because humans can vary significantly in their response to heat, illness and fatalities can still occur even when the rules are followed. Right now, there’s very little margin for error. One skipped break or a bad judgment call by a supervisor might lead to tragedy. The goal of the new regulations is to further reduce the risk of heat illness by creating a safety buffer.

What’s in the Proposal?

Here’s an overview of some of the items addressed by the proposal:

  • Employers would need to provide shade starting at 80 degrees (instead of 85). High heat procedures would be triggered at 85 degrees—a full 10 degrees lower than the previous limit.
  • If a worker shows symptoms of heat illness, supervisors will have specific guidelines to follow, including emergency procedures. All symptoms would have to be gone before workers could return to work after a cool-down break. Employees with signs of heat illness would be offered medical attention before going home.
  • Proximity of shade and water would be tightened. Shade structures would need to be within 700 feet of the work area, and water no more than 400 feet away.

How Might the Proposed Changes Affect You?

Current best practices for high heat would need to be reviewed for application at lower temperatures. Supervisors would need updated training to ensure they understand their expanded responsibilities. All employees would need a refresher course to cover their new rights, responsibilities, and rules. Written procedures for workplace safety will require revision as well if the proposal becomes part of the standard. If you’d like to prepare in advance for potential changes to your heat illness program, contact us for a consultation.