By Katie Culliton, 33 Cal Chamber
As California experiences record-breaking temperatures — excessive heat warnings and watches have been issued throughout California, including Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and more — the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (commonly known as Cal/OSHA) reminds all employers with outdoor workers to take steps to prevent heat illness.
Heat illness occurs when the body’s temperature control system is incapable of maintaining an acceptable temperature; very high body temperatures can damage the brain and other vital organs, and may eventually lead to death.
Remember, California’s heat illness prevention standard applies not only to all outdoor workers, but also to workers who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors, like security guards and groundkeepers, or in non-air-conditioned vehicles, like transportation and delivery drivers.
To prevent heat illness, all employers with outdoor workers must:
- Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures;
- Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention, including the signs and symptoms of heat illness so they know when to take steps that can prevent a coworker from getting sick;
- Provide fresh, pure, suitably cool and free drinking water to workers so that each worker can drink at least one quart per hour, and encourage workers to do so; and
- Provide shade when workers request it and when temperatures exceed 80 degrees, encouraging workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes.
Workers should not wait until they feel sick to cool down, and workers experiencing possible overheating should take a preventative cool-down rest in the shade until symptoms are gone. Employers should make sure their workers know their procedures for contacting emergency medical services, which includes directing them to the worksite if needed.
Heat Illness and COVID-19
Although employers must provide cloth face coverings or allow workers to use their own to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it can be more difficult to breathe and harder for a worker to cool off if they’re wearing a face covering. Additional breaks may be needed to prevent overheating. In Cal/OSHA’s high-heat advisory, it recommends that workers have face coverings at all times, but the face coverings should be removed in outdoor high heat conditions to help prevent overheating as long as physical distancing can be maintained. More resources are available on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention webpage and the 99calor.org informational website.