Heat Stress Prevention Heats Up in California

By Wilson, Elizabeth | Occupational Hazards, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Heat Stress Prevention Heats Up in California


Wilson, Elizabeth, Occupational Hazards


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As we head into the summer months, the weather and working conditions that prompted the state of California to pass a heat illness-related standard are upon us once again.

Interestingly, in 2006--the year the California standard was adopted--Cal/ OSHA's Division of Occupational Safety and Health found that supervisors had not received any training on heat illness in 63 percent of heat-related fatalities. Heat illness is a medical condition that results from the body's inability to cope with heat and cool itself and includes heat cramps, heat exhaustion, fainting and heat stroke.

"If knowledge was enough to prevent it, we'd all be safe all the time. You have to use good judgment," said Steve Hanson, a speaker at the Safety Forum of the Inland Empire meeting.

The California Standards Board adopted emergency heat regulations in August 2005, prompted by a significant increase in the number of possible heat-related incidents reported to Cal-OSHA that summer. That year, a Cal-OSHA investigation revealed that heat illness was directly responsible for 13 work-related deaths in 2005, as well as in a high percentage of other incidences such as accidents.

Since no other state or federal regulations were in place, Cal/OSHA drafted the first Heat Illness Prevention standard in collaboration with the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, worker and employer communities, Cal/OSHA, the Standards Board and other interested parties. The permanent heat illness prevention standard, Title 8, Chapter 4, [section] 3395, Heat Illness Prevention, applies to all outdoor places of employment and focuses on the provision of shade, water, acclimatization and training.

Under California's heat illness regulation, employers are required to take four basic steps to prevent heat illness at all outdoor worksites: develop and implement written procedures on heat illness prevention; provide heat illness training to all employees; make readily available and encourage each employee to drink four, 8-ounce cups of fresh water per hour; and provide immediate access to shade or any cool area out of the sun for recovery periods for at least 5 minutes at a time.

"Your company should be able to provide OSHA with your standard operating guidelines and procedures, as well as the date of your employee training, at their request," said Hanson.

Preventative Measures

A good way to prevent heat illness at work is to educate all employees on the environmental and personal risk factors for heat illness. Employees should also know the importance of frequent consumption of small quantities of water as well as the common signs and symptoms of heat illness.

Hanson warns that "the more frequently you are exposed to heat stress and the more severe it is, the most susceptible you are to it again."

Gayleen Grigoreas, the Southern California branch manager for the Safety Center, stated that it's important for supervisors specifically to be trained on heat illness because they need to be able to identify when someone is in distress. …

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