Cal/OSHA Stresses Heat Concern As Federal Officials Beat Drum Of ‘Water, Rest, Shade’

California’ state OSHA program is making a renewed push for heat illness prevention as temperatures are projected to soar in the southern region of the state, coming as OSHA simultaneously doubles down on its perennial campaign to inform employers and workers of measures to prevent heat exhaustion and stroke.

Federal OSHA held an annual press call with meteorological and other journalists urging them to include toughly worded advisories on the risks specifically to workers as they report on intense heat conditions. Media outlets are being strongly encouraged to share safety information for workplaces along with similar reports on protecting children and pets.

“Our safety message is three words — three simple words — ‘Water, Rest, Shade,'” OSHA chief David Michaels told reporters. “It can mean the difference between life and death.”

OSHA has a dedicated heat illness web page and is stressing the availability for download of its updated heat illness prevention app, which has been evolving for several years as OSHA increasingly studies how to help employers and workers monitor the heat. The app, called OSHA Heat Safety Tool, provided for Android and iPhone, allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index for their work site, and, based on the heat index, displays a risk level to outdoor workers.

Then, users can get reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect workers from heat-related illness-reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.

“Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit,” OSHA says. “Keep this in mind and plan additional precautions for working in these conditions.”

Michaels noted that the country this year is already experiencing extreme heat events and that summer has not even officially started. OSHA has sponsored its nationwide awareness campaign in last five years, working with other entities including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service.

OSHA has been petitioned before to consider an emergency temporary standard when heat waves are pending and likely to put many workers at risk, with the last such campaign by Public Citizen several years ago, but Michaels indicated in the press call that the issue does not lend itself to the statute providing such authority.

Most of the general duty citations that have been issued by the agency as a result of heat issues at a work site have centered on employers not having plans in place, Michaels said, and “they have not taken any precautions at all” despite OSHA warning about the need for effective strategies.

A key consideration for prevention heat exhaustion and the far more dangerous condition of heat stroke, which can be fatal, is acclimatization for workers to the heat. The risk can happen to anyone, even seasoned workers who have been away from the heat for a week or more.

Cal/OSHA made a high priority of the issue just as the feds ramped up their campaign, with important timeliness considering that through next Monday, temperatures are expected to be 15 to 25 degrees above normal in southern California. The National Weather Service forecasts excessive hot and dry weather patterns in Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties in particular, and northern California should be prepared for high heat as well, the state program said Tuesday (June 16).

California’s heat illness prevention rule, originally established in 2005, was amended effective May 1 to clarify requirements related to the provision of water rest and shade protections for all outdoor workers, which are detailed in Cal/OSHA guidance on the new requirements. — Christopher Cole (ccole@iwpews.com)