CA Bill Sets New Heat Protections for Workers
New legislation that could set new heat protections for employees working in “ultrahigh” heat and wildfire smoke outdoors is making its way to the California Senate for consideration.
If passed, Assembly Bill 2243 would require California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to consider revisiting the heat illness standard for workers when outdoor temperatures exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Currently, the California Department of Industrial Relations lays out specific workers’ rights regarding outdoor work and heat illness prevention in temperatures exceeding 95 F.
While the plan follows Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Regulation, the new bill is seeking revisions to include an ultrahigh heat standard for employees in outdoor places of employment for heat more than 105 F, as prescribed, and require employers to distribute copies of the Heat Illness Prevention Plan to employees when they are first hired and when temperatures first exceed 80 F, or on an annual basis.
Other measurement considerations would include having employers ensure that workers get paid rest breaks every hour, have more access to cool water and that they pay closer attention to workers for symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
The legislation would also require that the standards board consider revising the current wildfire smoke standard to lower the existing air quality index threshold before “respiratory protective equipment becomes mandatory.”
The bill was introduced by Assembly Members Eduardo Garcia and Luz Rivas. Co-authors of the bill include Assembly Members Robert Rivas, Bloom and Senator Stern. The bill was passed by the Assembly in a 47-19 vote in late May.
OSHA Launches National Emphasis Program
In April, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced the launch of a National Emphasis Program to protect millions of workers from heat illness and injuries.
The new enforcement program, reported to be a first of its kind, will ensure that OSHA conducts heat-related workplace inspections in an effort to prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
The press release issued by the DOL went on to explain that as the National Emphasis Program works to immediately improve enforcement and compliance efforts, there are ongoing efforts to establish a heat illness prevention rule.
While that long-term work continues, the program will initiate inspections in over 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for a local area.
However, on days when the heat index is 80 F or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists are to engage in proactive outreach and technical assistance. Regardless of whether the industry is targeted in the NEP, inspectors will also look for and address heat hazards.
OSHA has also developed a free and confidential health and safety consulting program, which has been made available to small- and medium-sized businesses working to develop strategic approaches for addressing heat-related illnesses and injuries in workplaces.
As part of OSHA’s continued work to reduce workplace heat illnesses and fatalities, the agency held a public stakeholder meeting on May 3 to discuss OSHA’s ongoing activities to protect workers from heat-related hazards, including the Heat Illness Prevention Campaign, compliance assistance activities and enforcement efforts.
In addition to annual reminders and warnings from OSHA prior to 2021, some places took heat illness prevention a step further. In 2019, a Florida lawmaker introduced a bill that would set a statewide standard for those working outdoors in relation to heat illness prevention.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando), would mandate that workers be given plenty of drinking water, access to shade and 10-minute rest breaks enforced after every two hours of outside labor.
In addition to access to water, shade and breaks, the Florida House bill, and its companion bill in the state Senate, would also require training to spot signs of heat exhaustion and an acclimatization period for workers.
While OSHA had guidelines and recommendations to avoid heat hazards, there is was set standard for heat exposure. The lack of a standard was called to task in 2018 with a petition backed by more than 130 industry organizations.
Led by nonprofit Public Citizen, the petition called for OSHA to do more than just point to suggested guidelines provided by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and argued that, as the climate changes, workers are experiencing more and more heat stress every year, which can take a dangerous toll on the body.
According to the government, 69,374 workers were seriously injured from heat between 1992 and 2016, and 783 U.S. workers died from heat exposure. By combining climate projects and census data, Public Citizen concluded that, by 2050, more than 1 million agriculture and construction workers will experience 30 days or more of dangerous heat per year.
While OSHA endorses NIOSH’s criteria, it has never created a nationally enforceable rule requiring employers to provide water, rest, shade and, more specifically, acclimatization programs or training to recognize symptoms of heat illness.
OSHA does provide visual indicators for heat index levels, which are the baselines for the NIOSH guidelines. However, those levels were also put under the magnifying glass last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees NIOSH.
In August 2018, the CDC released findings from a study that determined whether the heat index limits are effective in protecting workers. The CDC retrospectively reviewed 25 outdoor occupational heat-related illnesses—14 fatal, 11 nonfatal—investigated by OSHA from 2011 to 2016.
The research found that heat stress exceeded exposure limits in all 14 fatalities and in eight of the 11 nonfatal illnesses.
At the time, OSHA recommended using the heat index to protect workers and separates temperatures into four categories: