Guidelines for Heat Illness Prevention by Cal/OSHA

Dozens of workers die, and thousands more become sick each year from working in hot or humid conditions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in California runs campaigns to educate employers and employees on the dangers of working in high-heat environments. It also issues regulations all California employers with outdoor workplaces must comply with. 

The regulations guide employers to establish a prevention plan and reduce the risk of work-related heat illness or fatality. They do not in any way replace other safety requirements such as the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). Employers must implement and maintain an effective Heat Illness Prevention Plan (HIPP) while upholding other necessary regulations in the California Code. The best way to ensure you are compliant is to find a way to integrate all of the safety regulations.

Additionally, you need to know that the guidelines stated in the HIPP by Cal OSHA set the minimum standard of what you can do to protect your employees. Therefore, you will have to review the critical elements of an effective HIPP and customize one to suit your needs and work activities.

When is the Heat Illness Prevention Plan Applicable?

According to Cal/OSHA, every outdoor place of work should implement a HIPP, and the plan should apply every time employees work outdoors. In addition, some industries like construction, landscaping, oil and gas mining, and agriculture may need to observe additional requirements in high heat conditions. Several factors contribute to a high-heat working environment, including environmental conditions such as sunlight and humidity, physical activity, and the use of protective clothing and gear.

Worker Drinking Water at Processing Plans

Which are the Guidelines You Must Comply With?

Have a Written HIPP

As an employer, you must develop an effective HIPP, implement it, and put it down in writing. It must contain some sub-sections, which include:

  • Procedures for availing enough drinking water
  • Techniques for providing access to shade
  • Procedures for responding to an emergency 
  • Acclimatization methods
  • High-heat procedures

In the written plan, describe who is responsible for specific tasks to increase efficiency. Also, carefully draw out all the steps that must be followed to ensure that the task is completed. For example, it is not enough to say clean drinking water should be provided. Instead, make it clear that person X needs to ensure 50 bottles of 60-ounce water are placed at position Y daily. This makes accountability easy. 

Bear in mind that your prevention plan must be more than a restatement of the orders given by Cal/OSHA. It needs to be detailed and specific to your operations. Also, when writing down the plan, ensure that it is in English and any other language that is understood by most of your employees. Finally, make it readily available for the employees and in any convenient format.

Train All Employees on the HIPP

Having a Heat Illness Prevention Plan means nothing if your employees do not know the dangers of high heat and how to respond. As part of your compliance with the OSHA Heat Illness Prevention guidelines, employees at all levels need to be educated on heat illness and the policies and procedures that must be adhered to. The training and education need to be done before starting work involving the risk of heat illness.

Cal/OSHA will evaluate your compliance with this regulation by assessing the content in your plan and how it is presented. In addition, employees are asked questions to determine how well they understood the content of the plan as proof that training did indeed take place.

Provide Adequate Drinking Water

This regulation requires employers to provide safe drinking water at all times and at no cost, regardless of the temperature outside. In high heat and under strenuous work, the body is thought to lose more than a quart of fluid every hour through sweating. Therefore, if you make an effort to replace the lost fluid continuously, you allow the body to maintain the essential cooling benefits of perspiration.

The employer must ensure that the water is in easy-to-access locations, suitably, near the working areas. This is to serve as an encouragement or reminder to the workers to hydrate. The water must also be hygienically packed in individual containers, and replenishment should be readily available. In case there is no access to unlimited water, there should be at least enough for every employee to drink four to eight-ounce cups every hour.

As you see, providing water is not enough; as an employer, you need to take an extra step to ensure that the water available is being taken. Removing any barriers to access and making the water station inviting by maybe adding ice and a shade will help achieve this.

Allow Workers to Take a Cooldown Rest

Employers must allow workers to take a cool-down rest whenever necessary. The rest period should not be less than five minutes, and access to a shade should be granted. The rest is essential to protect the worker from overheating. As they rest, the employee may be monitored for any signs of heat illness and allowed to rest in the shade until they feel okay to return to work. Note that a cool-down rest period is not equivalent to regularly scheduled work breaks. 

The stipulated emergency response should be activated if an employee shows signs of heat illness.

Provide Proper Shade

A shaded area should be available at all times. The location should be away from direct sunlight and, if possible, allow unrestricted airflow. The shade can be natural or artificial but should not be unsafe or in a state that discourages its use. For example, it should not be under metal storage sheds, inside vehicles, or equipment such as tractors.

Shade should be available any time the temperatures go beyond 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it should be enough to accommodate all employees during rest periods so they can comfortably sit without physical contact.

If you are still struggling to develop and implement an effective Heat Illness Prevention Plan, consider seeking outside expertise to help you comply. An effective HIPP keeps your employees safe and protects them from heat-induced illnesses.