March 28, 2024

Cal/OSHA Indoor Heat Regulation Limbo – What Now?

As discussed here, on March 22, 2024, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board took an unexpected step by unanimously approving an indoor heat illness prevention regulation. The approval has left California employers in a precarious state of limbo. What happens next?

Over the next 30 working days, the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) must review the rulemaking record to ensure agency requirements to pass the rule were satisfied. Depending on the outcome of this review it will either approve the rule for filing with the Secretary of State or reject it and send it back to be re-introduced for a revote.

What Does it All Mean?

Despite a likely circuitous route to finalization, preparation is the best course of action.  The best place to begin is to become familiar with the proposed rule. A few key points are outlined below.

For employers with indoor work areas where the temperature equals or exceed 82 degrees Fahrenheit when employees are present, the proposed rule would add the following requirements:

  • Cool-Down Areas: The term “cool-down area” in the regulation is used in lieu of the term “shade” to clarify that a cool-down area can be indoors or outdoors. This area must be maintained at a temperature below 82 degrees, blocked from direct sunlight, and shielded from other high radiant heat sources. In addition, employers will be required to allow and encourage employees to take preventative cool-down rests when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating.
  • Provision of Water: This requirement to provide water in indoor cool-down areas is to harmonize with existing drinking water requirements for outdoor hear illness protection and to ensure quick access to drinking water as a means of controlling heat illness. Specific water quantities are provided to ensure quantities sufficient to maximize the effectiveness of drinking water as a measure to prevent heat illness.
  • Training: This provision requires that supervisory and nonsupervisory employees be provided certain information before beginning work, including:
    • The role environmental and personal risk factors play in exacerbating the risk of heat illness;
    • A description of the employer’s procedures and employees’ rights;
    • An explanation of the importance of drinking small quantities of water frequently;
    • The importance of acclimatization and close observation;
    • The signs and symptoms of heat illness along with the appropriate first aid and the importance of immediately reporting signs and symptoms;
    • The employer’s procedures for responding to possible heat illness and for contacting emergency services; and
    • The employer’s procedures for ensuring that clear and precise directions are provided to emergency responders.
  • Emergency Response Procedures: Emergency response procedures must include maintaining effective communication; responding to signs and symptoms of possible heat illness; contacting emergency medical services; and ensuring that clear and precise directions to the work site are provided to emergency responders.
  • Observation During Acclimatization: Requires close observation of all employees where no effective engineering controls are in use to control the effect of outdoor heat on indoor temperature during a heat wave. The regulation identifies the trigger temperature or heat index that requires close observation of an employee who has been newly assigned to a work area, or work involving the use of clothing that restricts heat removal, or a high radiant heat area.
  • Heat Illness Prevention Plan (HIPP): Employers must establish, implement, and maintain an effective HIPP that is available in both English and the language understood by the majority of the employees and be available at the worksite to employees and to representatives of Cal/OSHA upon request. At a minimum, the HIPP must include:
    • Procedures for the provision of water and access to cool-down areas;
    • The assessment and control measures of work areas;
    • Emergency response procedures; and
    • Close observation during acclimatization.