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California Requirements to Avoid Employee Heat Illness in Time of Face Mask

With temperatures rising to summer levels in parts of the state, employer obligations to protect outdoor workers from heat-related illnesses, beginning at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, come into force. Areas not yet reaching that threshold should prepare for the heat to come.

Particularly with continuing state and local COVID-19 workplace face mask requirements, employers must be particularly vigilant to protect their employees from heat illness.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently blogged tips to prevent heat illness, including:

  1. Be aware that new and temporary workers are at most risk. All workers, with special emphasis on those unaccustomed to such conditions, need to acclimatize to hot conditions.
We note that employers should be cognizant that workers who have been out for months and left at a time when temperatures were much cooler will need to reacclimatize and reacquaint themselves with the risks and protections associated with work in hot climates.
  1. Ensure all workers focus on “water, rest, and shade” as their mantras for work in hot conditions. Frequent drinking of water and electrolytes and cool-down breaks in air-conditioned or shaded areas are key.
  2. Use measures such as ventilation, fans, job function rotation, and scheduling work at cooler hours.
  3. Know that indoor workers in settings such as foundries, boiler rooms, kitchens, laundries, and others are also susceptible to heat illness and should be given similar protection.
  4. Ensure all workers in hot environments are familiar with heat illness symptoms, have them work with a buddy and watch each other for signs of illness, and notify supervisors or call 911 when needed.
  5. Download and use the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety App on iPhones or Androids to assist in calculating the heat index in a work area, assessing the risk, and planning accordingly.

Ms. Sweatt’s suggested measures are similar to California’s Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board (OSHSB) regulations which include special measures for high-heat (over 95 degrees) such as observing employees for signs of heat illness and ensuring 10-minute cool-down breaks every two hours.

California’s Division on Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) provides additional tools and information, including heat illness triggers, handlings, and creating a required written prevention plan.

A heat illness plan should be part of an employer’s required Illness and Injury Prevention Plan (IIPP), made available at the applicable worksite(s). A business must convey/translate its plan into the language understood by the majority of the company’s workers.

An IIPP for outdoor workers should also address Valley Fever, caused by a fungus in the top two to twelve inches of soil in parts of the state, especially Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Luis Obispo, and Tulare counties. Outdoor workers are susceptible to Valley Fever when triggers such as high wind, digging, and plowing release the fungi into the air. Several Cal/OSHA regulations address Valley Fever safety practices.

See also:

For further information, please contact Tim BowlesCindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Helena Kobrin

July 1, 2020