HEAT WAVE: If Your Employees Work Outdoors, You Better Be Complying with Cal/OSHA’s Heat Safety Regulations and Providing Paid Recovery (Cooldown) Periods

HEAT WAVE: If Your Employees Work Outdoors, You Better Be Complying with Cal/OSHA’s Heat Safety Regulations and Providing Paid Recovery (Cooldown) Periods

By Laura C. McHugh, Esq.

It’s been HOT lately. Thankfully, many of us work in air-conditioned offices. But not all workers do, and Cal/OSHA has been on it, fervently dishing out citations to employers who violate its amended heat illness prevention (HIP) regulations, which apply to all California employees who work outdoors.

The HIP regulations were amended on May 1, 2015, and went hand-in-hand with the then-new California law requiring an additional hour of compensation for missed “recovery”/cooldown periods (i.e., same as the one hour additional compensation required for missed meal and rest periods). They apply to all outdoor places of employment. And, certain industries are subject to additional requirements in high heat (95°F or above): agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction, and transportation and delivery of agricultural products and construction or other heavy materials (e.g., furniture, lumber, freight, cargo, cabinets, industrial or commercial materials). Also, some provisions are triggered at specific temperatures, for example, the shade requirement and High-Heat Procedures.

These HIP citations are often brought as “add-on” citations in situations where Cal/OSHA originally cites an employer for violations that have nothing to do with heat prevention.

Case in point, Cal/OSHA recently cited one company after an employee fell off a scaffold and sustained a serious injury. Most citations involved violations related to the scaffolding and injury. However, “add-on” citations included those for not having established and implemented written heat illness prevention procedures, including provisions for shade for employees who regularly performed outdoor work in 80+°F weather. This happened in Lake Tahoe. It was 82°F. Formerly, the trigger temperature requiring shade under Cal/OSHA was 85°F, and the company was unaware of the lowered trigger temperature.

In short, compliance with the amended HIP regulations requires:

(1) Training. All employees and supervisors must be trained on heat illness prevention.

(2) Water. Employers must provide enough fresh water for each employee to drink at least one quart, or four 8-ounce glasses, of water per hour, and encourage them to do so.

(3) Shade. Employers must provide access to shade and encourage cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes. They should not wait until employees feel too sick to cool down.

(4) Planning. Employers must develop and implement a written Heat Illness Prevention Plan (HIPP).

Cal/OSHA has issued a guidance detaling an employer’s responsibility to provide shade and prevent heat illness. Highlights from the guidance are summarized below.

(1) The trigger temperature for shade is now 80°F. When temperatures exceed 80°F, shade structures must be erected if no other shade is readily available.

(2) The amount of shade present must be enough to accommodate all employees on a rest or recovery break, or a meal break if the employees eat on site, and employees must be able to sit with each other without physical contact.

(3) Employees must be able to take preventative cool down (recovery) periods, monitored for early symptoms of heat illness, and not required to work until five minutes after any heat illness symptoms are gone.

(4) Employers must have appropriate first aid or emergency response for heat illness.

(5) On days when it is 95°F, employers must implement High-Heat Procedures to monitor and detect early signs of heat illness and “ensure effective observation” at regular intervals. Depending on the number of employees, this may require a designated supervisor, a buddy system, or other effective mode of communication, etc.

(6) Employers must conduct pre-shift meetings to review High-Heat Procedures, etc.

(7) Employers must implement emergency response procedures.

(8) Acclimatization must be allowed during heat waves (defined as any day in which temperature will be at least 80°F and at least 10°F higher than the average high daily temperature in the last five days), and employers must closely observe employees new to high heat areas for 14 days.

(9) Employers must comply with detailed training requirements for all employees, supervisory and non-supervisory.

(10) The written HIPP may be included as part of employer’s written IIPP. It must meet certain requirements, including being written in English and the language understood by a majority of employees.

Finally, employers who do not supply a paid “recovery (cooldown) period” must pay one additional hour of compensation to the employee for the missed recovery period. Recovery periods must be duty-free and provided in addition to the paid rest breaks employees may take every three and one-half to four hours worked.