The weather is already starting to warm up in the Coachella Valley and it won’t be long before summer is upon us and the mercury starts rising quickly. That means it is also a good time for each company to review its heat illness prevention policy.
Last year in April, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched a campaign to prevent heat illness, which included on-site inspections during high-temperature weather, trainings and presentations to employer and worker organizations, as well as media outreach. Inspectors looked for employer compliance in providing adequate water, shade, rest breaks, worker training and emergency preparations at outdoor work sites. One should expect the same scrutiny this year as Cal-OSHA goes about its business of preventing death and illness due to heat.
California’s heat illness prevention rules include a high-heat provision for five different industries, including agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction, and transportation/delivery of agricultural products. These five industries must follow the high-heat provisions—such as observing employees, closely supervising new employees, and reminding workers to drink water.
The program essentially has four major elements
Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention.
Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least one quart per hour, and encourage them to do so. Where drinking water is not plumbed or otherwise continuously supplied, it shall be provided in sufficient quantity at the beginning of the work shift to provide one quart per employee per hour for drinking for the entire shift. Employers may begin the shift with smaller quantities of water if they have effective procedures for replenishment during the shift as needed to allow employees to drink one quart or more per hour.
Shade is required to be present when the temperature exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The amount of shade present shall be at least enough to accommodate 25 percent of the employees on the shift at any time, so that they can sit in a normal posture fully in the shade without having to be in physical contact with each other. The shaded area shall be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working.
When the outdoor temperature in the work area does not exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit employers shall either provide shade or provide timely access to shade upon an employee's request.
Employees shall be allowed and encouraged to take a cool-down rest in the shade for a period of no less than five minutes at a time when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating. Such access to shade shall be permitted at all times.
Where the employer can demonstrate that it is infeasible or unsafe to have a shade structure, or otherwise to have shade present on a continuous basis, the employer may utilize alternative procedures for providing access to shade if the alternative procedures provide equivalent protection.
Develop and implement written procedures for complying with the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard
Cal/OSHA investigations have found that in 80 percent of the cases in which suspected heat illness occurred, the employer did not have a heat illness prevention program. The regulation requires employer’s procedures to be in writing, and to be made available to employees and representatives of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) upon request.
These written procedures must include:
• Complying with the requirements of the standard.
• Responding to symptoms of possible heat illness, including how emergency medical services will be provided should they become necessary.
• Contacting emergency medical services, and if necessary, for transporting employees to a point where they can be reached by an emergency medical service provider.
• Ensuring that, in the event of an emergency, clear and precise directions to the work site can and will be provided as needed to emergency responders. These procedures shall include designating a person to be available to ensure that emergency procedures are invoked when appropriate.
Cal/OSHA has recommended that employers use “Best Practices” in developing their written plan. The Cal/OSHA website recommends the following:
• Tailor it to include procedures and measures that apply to your particular work site, activities and employees at any given point in time.
• Put into place the necessary work practices to prevent, recognize, and respond to heat illness.
• Communicate your work practices to employees in real time.
• Build in flexibility by adjusting your work practices so you are prepared to respond as temperature and other risk factors change throughout the work day.
Western Growers Insurance Services provides a wide range of safety and loss prevention services including heat stress training and preparation.
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