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Things are changing in California, and employers better be prepared. New weather patterns and select burgeoning career paths have created the necessity for state government to regulate protections for heat injuries occurring indoors.
California was the first state to set a threshold at which employers must protect workers from outdoor conditions. Starting in January 2019, California will become the first state to begin the formal process, through the state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, of having regulations to protect workers from indoor heat indexes.
Rising Container Industry
More workers than ever spend their days inside shipping containers, thanks to the rising e-commerce industry. Pay is good, at around $16 per hour, but the risks are high. Workers spend a majority of their day performing manual labor inside a forty foot long metal container, often in California's warmer climates. According to one study, when the heat index outside reaches 98 degrees, inside the container, the heat index inside containers can rise to115 degrees. At these levels, heat illness, including heat stroke, can occur.
Current Liability Under State and Federal Law
Under current state and federal OSHA laws, employers have a duty to keep workers free from injury and illness. In 2011, Domingo Blancas experienced prolonged heat illness on the job. He reported this to his employer, and subsequently saw a doctor and was hospitalized. He filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA, which resulted in the first fine for injury on the job due to heat stress. As a result, Blancas' employers, both the warehouse and staffing agency, were each fined $18,000 for failing to minimize heat. These rules exists today, but Cal/OSHA is looking to take it to a new, higher, level of care.
Proposed Extended Liability
In the latest draft from Cal/OSHA, proposed regulation would apply to "all indoor work areas where the temperature equals or exceeds 82 degrees Fahrenheit when employees are present." Many requirements would not kick in until the indoor heat index hits 90 degrees, but provisions are addressed as low as 82 degrees. Proponents believe new regulations are necessary, in light of global warming and the unsafe working conditions of many indoor workers, such as industrial cooks, laundry workers, and those in the shipping industry. Opponents of this new regulation insist that the standard isn't necessary, and criticize Cal/OSHA's approach in crafting a rule that applies to every company. According to Marti Fisher, a policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce, "If they insist on having a one-size-fits-all, it has to fit all."
If your employees file an indoor heat related injury claim, take it seriously. Contact a local worker's compensation attorney to see what you are required to do, and what is recommended. Also, keep monitoring this new proposed legislation, which may go into effect as early as 2019.