California Adopts Standard to Stave Off Heat-Related Deaths

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has approved a permanent heat stress standard that was created to protect outdoor workers from heat-related deaths and illnesses.

The new regulation which now goes to the state's Office of Administrative Law for final approval was spurred by a spike in the number of heat-related work incidents reported to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) last year. Cal/OSHA now believes that heat illness was responsible for 13 work-related deaths in the state in 2005.

The permanent heat illness prevention standard which, according to Cal/OSHA Acting Chief Len Welsh, is the first in the country applies to all outdoor places of employment and focuses on providing workers with shade, water, acclimatization and training.

Regulations require employers to provide workers access to filtered drinking water of at least one quart per hour for the entire shift. The standard also requires employers to provide shade for employees suffering from heat illness in addition to training workers and supervisors on the risk factors for heat illness, how to avoid it, the employer's procedures for complying with the standard and emergency procedures if an employee becomes ill.

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.

"Prevention is the best defense against heat-related illnesses," Welsh said. "Once a worker actually becomes ill from the effects of heat it can be too late."

The heat-related deaths of several workers last summer prompted state officials to adopt emergency heat regulations in August. (Read "California: Worker Deaths Prompt Emergency Heat Stress Rule Proposal.")

Since the initiation of the emergency regulations, Cal/OSHA has stepped up its efforts to educate employers and workers on heat illness prevention. Public service announcements, regarding heat illness and other workers' rights and safety issues, can be found in eight languages on the Cal/OSHA Web site.

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