Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cal/OSHA moves to strengthen heat illness prevention regulations

The Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) today has filed a proposal with the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to amend California’s first of its kind heat illness prevention regulations. This action follows the July 16 request by Governor Schwarzenegger to strengthen and improve the standards to protect outdoor workers from the hot summer sun.

“Today we are moving to clarify amendments to the standards and to ensure that we provide the necessary measures to improve upon our first in the nation regulation to protect outdoor workers from the summer heat,” said DIR Director John C. Duncan. “This package will, among other things, include a requirement for shade to be present at all times and a trigger for shade to be up when the temperature exceeds 85 degrees. It also makes it clear that employees have the right to take a rest in the shade whenever they feel the need to do so to prevent themselves from overheating.”

Earlier clarifying proposals were submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for adoption as emergency amendments to the heat illness standard on June 18 and July 16, but the Board did not adopt the amendments as an emergency. Today the amendments are being resubmitted through the standard rule making process.

“Our efforts to strengthen the heat illness prevention regulations will continue until we obtain the clarity needed to promote the most effective compliance with the standard,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Len Welsh. “These proposed amendments will provide greater protection for outdoor workers and address questions raised among some employers about how to comply with the standard.”

Under the Governor’s leadership, California became the first state in the nation to develop a safety and health regulation addressing heat illness in 2005. Cal/OSHA issued permanent heat illness prevention regulations to protect outdoor workers in 2006. The current regulations require that the employer make shade available, provide drinking water, provide training to both supervisors and workers, and requires that the written heat illness prevention program include a plan for summoning emergency responders.

Enforcement of the heat illness preventions standards continues to be a priority, especially during times of high heat. Since the recent heat wave began on July 11, Cal/OSHA has conducted 176 inspections of outdoor workplaces identifying over 230 violations while checking for compliance to the heat illness prevention regulations. This year Cal/OSHA has conducted 1,971 targeted inspections and identified 507 violations of the safety and health standards.

Since 2005 when enforcement of the heat illness prevention regulations began, 5,588 inspections have been conducted with over 2,355 violations found. The number of inspections conducted during each year since 2005 as exceeded the number conducted during the previous year. Last year's total was 2,583 and this year Cal/OSHA is again on target to beat the previous year's numbers.

An increased effort has been placed on expanding outreach to train outdoor workers and employers. The state budget just signed has authorized the spending of $1.5 million to expand upon the extraordinary outreach efforts already in place to educate workers and employers about the necessity of heat illness prevention.

This effort will help to expand Cal/OSHA's successful participation and partnership with industry, labor, and community groups. This year a total of 934 heat illness prevention outreach activities have been conducted, including seminars, presentations, training sessions, with both workers and their employers.

The development of a partnership with a coalition of seventeen agricultural groups, including the California Farm Bureau and Nisei Farmers League, has expanded training from farm labor contractors, to crew leaders and the growers who hire them. Over 4,000 have attended this training series since it was launched in March.

Community partnerships have been established with Catholic Dioceses across the state to provide a supportive environment to reach out to migrant workers. The Diocese of Fresno and Monterey have worked with Cal/OSHA to train key migrant leaders and volunteers in the agriculture community on educating workers about heat illness prevention. Cal/OSHA trainers have also held informational meetings and distributed heat illness educational pamphlets out to Spanish and Mixteco monolingual migrant workers directly.

An important partnership was established with the California Department of Education’s Migrant Education program in 2008 to bring important heat illness prevention training to teachers and administrators statewide who have then educated students and their families about heat stress and their rights. Each year the Migrant Education programs reaches out to approximately 300,000 migrant families.

Health fairs and community events in key areas across the state have also been a popular approach by Cal/OSHA to distribute materials and speaking directly with the public about this important subject. Since the regulation was first implemented in 2005 Cal/OSHA has participated in over 2,300 outreach events.

For more information on heat illness prevention and training materials visit the Cal/OSHA Web site at Employees with work-related questions or complaints may call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at 1-866-924-9757.


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