March 21, 2024

“Uncharted Territory”: The Controversial Passage of Cal/OSHA’s Indoor Heat Standard

In a surprising turn of events, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board took an unexpected step by unanimously approving an indoor heat illness prevention regulation, despite being advised to delay the vote. This decision thrust the Board into what Autumn Gonzalez, the Board Chief Counsel, described as “uncharted territory.” The backstory to this circus of a hearing is as intriguing as the decision itself.

The controversy began when the California Department of Finance (CDF) withdrew its endorsement of certain sections of the Standardized Regulatory Impact Assessment, which is essential for the enactment of any new regulation. The withdrawal specifically targeted sections evaluating the financial impact on public institutions and, by extension, the taxpayers.

This development set the stage for a dramatic series of events at a meeting in San Diego, where labor advocates and activists were anticipating the ratification of the regulation they had long championed. Their response to the unexpected setback was swift and disruptive. Protesters vocally and noisily expressed their disapproval, bringing the meeting to a standstill until law enforcement intervened. Then an exasperated Board Chair, David Thomas, gaveled out and called the meeting “adjourned.” Later, after a number of citizens had departed the venue, the Board reconvened.

The Board decided to proceed with the vote over CDF’s objections. That decision plus the vote having taken place after the Chair struck the gavel to adjourn the meeting has raised significant questions about its legality. The future of the regulation remains uncertain. An emergency meeting of the Board might also be on the cards to finalize the standard before the current rulemaking period concludes in April. If not resolved by then, Cal/OSHA would be forced to return to square one on a regulation that has been in development since 2012, with the possibility that the fiscal analysis resubmission could extend beyond the April deadline.

Despite the regulatory hurdles and contentious atmosphere, the indoor heat illness prevention standard was passed. However, questions linger about its effect and the implications of the Board’s unconventional decision.