A recent Department of Industrial Relations’ Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (OSHAB) decision regarding the provisioning of water at outdoor worksites provides clarity on the definition of what “as close as practicable” means when it comes to water placement at the workplace.
In 2019 Cal/OSHA cited a Northern California vineyard after a complaint-initiated safety inspection alleged a repeated violation for failing to provide water as close as practicable for employees.
The citation was appealed and later affirmed by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in October 2022 with the OSHAB issuing its decision in early February 2023. The OSHAB affirmed the ALJ’s finding that the vineyard trellises acted as an obstacle that discouraged employees from frequently drinking water; workers were required to climb through the trellises to access available water. And, that other less obstructed ways of providing access to water were available. This included providing water jugs at the end of each row or issuing refillable water bottles to each worker.
In its decision, the OSHAB clarified the term “as close as practicable” to mean that the water must be as close as reasonably can be accomplished to encourage frequent water consumption.
As a reminder, all California employees must have access to potable water which is “fresh, pure, suitably cool and provided to employees free of charge.” If not plumbed or otherwise continuously supplied, it must be furnished at the beginning of the shift (unless there are sufficient replenishment procedures during the shift) in sufficient quantity to provide one quart per employee per hour for the entire shift.