As heat wave continues, employers cautioned
August 15, 2012
• Cal/OSHA reminds employers to stay on the alert during high heat
• ‘This is the longest period of sustained high temperatures in California since 2006’
The protracted heat wave continues across the Central Valley, with little relief in sight, according to forecasters.
Hanford hit a high of 105 Wednesday at 5 p.m. and the mercury is expected to top 100 on Thursday and Friday.
It was equally as hot in Bakersfield where 105 was reached shortly after 2 p.m.; in Porterville, which saw a high of 102; in Fresno, a 105 at 4 p.m.; Merced at 103 at 3:45 p.m.; Modesto, a coolish 99 at 2:45 p.m.; Stockton, 96 at 3:45 p.m.; Sacramento, 99 at 3:45 p.m.; Marysville, 99 at 4:45 p.m.; and Chico, 98 at 5:45 p.m.
The California Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Division of Occupational Safety and Health is urging employers to protect outdoor workers from heat illness and allow for new workers to adjust to changes in weather (also known as acclimatization).
“This is the longest period of sustained high temperatures in California since 2006 and employers at outdoor worksites should stay on the alert,” says DIR Director Christine Baker. “Ensuring that new employees are closely supervised while they are acclimatizing to working in high heat – on top of providing water, rest, shade and training – is an essential step in making sure a jobsite is a safe place to work.”
A 2005 Cal/OSHA study showed that employees who are not used to working in extreme heat are at the highest risk of developing heat illness. That same study showed that 46 percent of reported cases of heat illness occurred on the employee’s first day on the job.
“Providing water, rest, shade and training are essential for all employers with outdoor worksites. Any new employee who is not used to working in high heat conditions is at an increased risk of developing heat illness, and supervisors should use caution in acclimating them to a new work environment,” says Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “Close supervision of heat-exposed workers is critical because life-threatening heat illness can develop and progress very rapidly.”
It can take anywhere from four to 14 days for the human body to become properly acclimated to working outdoors in an extremely hot environment, the state says. Some best practices for employers who may have new employees working in high heat include assigning employees to less physically demanding tasks in their first fourteen days on a new job or working a new employee onto a shift slowly. But all workers can be adversely affected by “heat waves” where temperatures are still high even at night.
“Given the extreme heat we have been experiencing, employers must have emergency medical plans in place, ready to be used at a moment’s notice,” says Ms. Widess.
Under California’s heat illness prevention laws, employers with outdoor workers are required to establish and implement emergency procedures, and provide training on heat illness prevention to all workers. Every outdoor workplace must have drinking water for workers – at least one quart per hour per employee – and shade for recovery and rest periods. Shade must be provided when temperatures are above 85 degrees, and be available at employee request at any temperature. Employers are also required to train employees to properly identify heat illness symptoms.