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Caton: The Heat Is On

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Broad areas of Northern and Southern California are forecasted to reach near or above triple-digit highs in the coming weeks. With these high temperatures, the risk for heat-related illness increases, especially for those who spend a significant amount of their day working outdoors.

Trina Caton

Trina Caton

Cal/OSHA has urged all employers to protect outdoor workers from heat illness as temperatures in parts of California will remain over 90 and 100 degrees for the next two weeks. For the most updated information, the National Weather Service maintains a summary web page of California hazardous weather advisories and warnings, including dangerous hot weather.

California’s heat illness prevention standard applies to all outdoor workers, including those in agriculture, construction and landscaping. Other workers protected by the standard include those who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors, such as security guards, public works and groundskeepers, or in non-air-conditioned vehicles such as transportation and delivery drivers.

Assess your employees’ risk of heat illness by evaluating each worker’s duties and take appropriate steps to prevent them from getting sick. For example, the risk of heat illness is lower for an installation worker who arrives in an air-conditioned vehicle and spends one hour working outdoors than for a driver who makes deliveries all day in a non-air-conditioned vehicle.

Regardless of the level of risk, all outdoor workers must be protected equally, and employers with outdoor workers must maintain an effective heat illness prevention plan year-round.

Employers with outdoor workers must take the following steps to prevent heat illness:

  • Plan: Develop and implement an effective, written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
  • Training: Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention.
  • Water: Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so that each worker can drink at least one quart per hour, and encourage workers to do so.
  • Shade: Provide shade when workers request it or when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes. They should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.

Additionally, the California Code of Regulations prescribes that the following High-Heat Procedures should be implemented when the temperature equals or exceeds 95 degrees. These procedures shall include the following to the extent practicable:

  • Ensuring that effective communication by voice, observation or electronic means is maintained so that employees at the work site can contact a supervisor when necessary. An electronic device, such as a cellphone or text messaging device, may be used for this purpose only if reception in the area is reliable.
  • Observing employees for alertness and signs or symptoms of heat illness. The employer shall ensure effective employee observation/monitoring by implementing one or more of the following:
    • Supervisor or designee observation of 20 or fewer employees.
    • Mandatory buddy system.
    • Regular communication with sole employee, such as by radio or cellular phone.
    • Other effective means of observation.
  • Designating one or more employees on each work site as authorized to call for emergency medical services, and allowing other employees to call for emergency services when no designated employee is available.
  • Reminding employees throughout the work shift to drink plenty of water.
  • Pre-shift meetings before the commencement of work to review the high heat procedures, encourage employees to drink plenty of water, and remind employees of their right to take a cool-down rest when necessary.

For employees employed in agriculture, the following shall also apply:

  • When temperatures reach 95 degrees or above, the employer shall ensure that the employee takes a minimum 10-minute net preventative cool-down rest period every two hours. The preventative cool-down rest period may be provided concurrently with any other required meal or rest period.

Cal/OSHA urges workers experiencing possible overheating to take a preventive cool-down rest in the shade until symptoms are gone. Workers who have health problems or medical conditions that reduce tolerance to heat, such as diabetes, need to be extra vigilant. Some medications can also increase a worker’s risk for heat illness and sensitivity to sun exposure.

Supervisors must be effectively trained both to prevent heat illness and on emergency procedures in case a worker gets sick. Early recognition of the symptoms helps employees suffering the effects of dehydration and heat illness to receive immediate treatment to prevent more serious illness or death.

All employees need to know the signs of dehydration and what to do before it turns into an emergency. Employees who have stopped sweating or who become disoriented are already in a serious situation. Everyone involved needs to be aware of these signs and must be empowered to report to their supervisor that a fellow worker appears to be suffering a heat injury.

Reliable means for summoning emergency responders promptly must always be considered, especially in locations where cellphone coverage isn’t dependable.

Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention special emphasis program, the first of its kind in the nation, includes enforcement of heat regulations as well as multilingual outreach and training programs for employers and workers.

Details on heat illness prevention requirements and training materials are available online on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention web page and the Spanish language 99calor.org informational website. A Heat Illness Prevention online tool is also available on Cal/OSHA’s website.

Trina Caton is assistant vice president in Keenan’s Loss Control Department and is based in Rancho Cordova. This entry is republished from Keenan's blog.

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