Oakland, California, U.S.A. — With a protracted heat wave in many regions of the state over the past week that is slated to continue through this week, the California Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Division of Occupational Safety and Health (commonly referred to as Cal/OSHA) is urging employers to protect outdoor workers from heat illness and allow for new workers to adjust to changes in weather (also known as acclimatization).
“This is the longest period of sustained high temperatures in California since 2006 and employers at outdoor worksites should stay on the alert,” said DIR Director Christine Baker. “Ensuring that new employees are closely supervised while they are acclimatizing to working in high heat – on top of providing water, rest, shade and training – is an essential step in making sure a jobsite is a safe place to work.”
A 2005 Cal/OSHA study showed that employees who are not used to working in extreme heat are at the highest risk of developing heat illness. That same study showed that forty-six percent of reported cases of heat illness occurred on the employee’s first day on the job.
“Providing water, rest, shade and training are essential for all employers with outdoor worksites. Any new employee who is not used to working in high heat conditions is at an increased risk of developing heat illness, and supervisors should use caution in acclimating them to a new work environment,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “Close supervision of heat-exposed workers is critical because life-threatening heat illness can develop and progress very rapidly.”
It can take anywhere from four to fourteen days for the human body to become properly acclimated to working outdoors in an extremely hot environment. Some best practices for employers who may have new employees working in high heat include assigning employees to less physically demanding tasks in their first fourteen days on a new job or working a new employee onto a shift slowly. But all workers can be adversely affected by “heat waves” where temperatures are still high even at night.
“Given the extreme heat we have been experiencing, employers must have emergency medical plans in place, ready to be used at a moment’s notice,” added Widess.
Under California’s first-in-the-nation heat illness prevention standard, employers with outdoor workers are required to establish and implement emergency procedures, and provide training on heat illness prevention to all workers. Every outdoor workplace must have drinking water for workers – at least one quart per hour per employee – and shade for recovery and rest periods. Shade must be provided when temperatures are above 85 degrees, and be available at employee request at any temperature. Employers are also required to train employees to properly identify heat illness symptoms.
The heat illness prevention standard was strengthened two years ago to include a high heat provision that must be implemented by five different industries when temperatures reach 95 degrees. These procedures include observing employees, closely supervising new employees, and reminding all employees throughout the shift to drink water.
The specified industries include agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction and transportation or delivery of agricultural products, construction material or other heavy material. However, all employers are advised to take additional precautions during periods of high heat.
Cal/OSHA’s website provides employers with a Heat Illness Prevention e-tool for reference. More information on how to prevent heat illness and training materials can be found in both English and Spanish on Cal/OSHA’s website and also at the “Water Rest Shade” campaign site. Materials in additional languages are available at the website as well.