The Heat Illness Prevention Rule in California Explained

Sadly, it seems that year after year the summer heat is only getting hotter. This means that California contractors, working both indoors and outdoors, frequently face significant risks of heat-related illnesses.

To protect the health and safety of workers across the state, we have stringent regulations in place known as the Heat Illness Prevention Standard.

In this article, we’ll share the specifics of the regulations involved and we’ll also fill you in on recent developments related to workplace heat safety standards.

Contractors affected by heat-related risks in their construction work might want to keep this info in their back pocket as a reminder of their rights and a reminder to hold employers accountable on the work site.

A Closer Look at the Heat Illness Prevention Rule

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health — also known as Cal/OSHA — created this rule. As we mentioned in our intro, this rule exists to protect workers from heat-related harm and illness.

Here are the key provisions of the rule:

Access to Water
When you’re working a job in construction, your employers must provide you access to fresh, pure drinking water. They also must encourage you to drink water frequently to prevent dehydration.

Shade Requirements
Your employers must also ensure the availability of shade when you’re working outdoors. In addition to this, employers must encourage you to take rest and to cool down when temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you’re new to a work site or if you’ve just returned from an extended absence, your employer is required to have procedures in place that help you acclimate or re-acclimate to the hot working conditions.

Your employer also needs to provide you with training that can help you recognize the symptoms of heat-related illness. This training must also teach you about emergency response procedures and preventive measures you can take to protect yourself and others.

Recent Developments in California for Workplace Heat Safety Standard

In March 2024, a critical vote on a bill to protect workers from extreme indoor temperatures was canceled.

The bill would establish requirements for indoor employers to protect workers from heat-related hazards, including adequate ventilation, access to water, and rest breaks.

The terms of the bill just barely pass muster according to Cal/OSHA standards, but even so, it represents progress for labor groups statewide and that progress has been delayed.

Workers are in a vulnerable position while they wait for the Department of Finance to approve the bill so that the California Office of Administrative Law can take steps forward with the regulations.

The timeframe for the next steps here is still uncertain, but labor unions and worker advocates are keeping the pressure on so that Gov. Gavin Newsom and all governmental agencies involved take this issue seriously.

Can Contractors Walk Off a Job Site if They Feel Unsafe or Unwell?

Yes! Contractors have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, including extreme heat, if they believe their health or safety is at risk.

Under California law, workers are protected from retaliation for exercising their rights to refuse unsafe work.

If you ever find yourself in this challenging situation, simply notify your employer or supervisor of the unsafe conditions and request that they take corrective action.

If the employer fails to address the concerns promptly, you can bring the issue to Cal/OSHA for investigation and intervention.

Can Contractors Sue Their Employer for Unfit Work Conditions?

If your employer breaks the law and you can build a case citing and proving damages, then yes absolutely, you can sue your employer for providing work conditions that endanger health and safety.

If an employer of yours fails to comply with regulations such as the Heat Illness Prevention Rule or provides adequate protection against heat-related hazards, you have grounds to sue.

Consulting with an experienced employment law attorney can help you as you consider your options as you confront negligent employers.

How Contractors Prevent Heat-Related Illness for Themselves in Hot Working Conditions

Contractors can take these proactive steps to prevent heat-related illnesses:

Stay Hydrated
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you don’t think you’re thirsty. Stay hydrated and prevent dehydration.

Take Breaks
Take breaks in shaded or cool areas often! Rest and cool down, especially during the hottest parts of the day.

Wear Appropriate Clothing
Wear lightweight, breathable clothing that provides protection from the sun without trapping heat.

Use Sun Protection
Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to protect against sunburn and heat exhaustion.

Monitor Symptoms
Check for signs of heat-related illnesses, such as dizziness, nausea, headache and weakness throughout the work day. Seek medical attention if these symptoms come up for you.

Takeaways for Contractors Facing Heat-Related Risks in Their Construction Work

The Heat Illness Prevention Standard requires your employers to help you prevent heat-related illness in the workplace. It is important to hold employers accountable and exercise your right to a safe working environment.

If necessary, you can take legal action against your employer for violating health and safety standards, but confer with an experienced employment law attorney who can help you build your case.

Also, it’s good to be aware of ongoing developments in labor laws that affect you and your work conditions. Getting involved with your labor union or worker advocate groups to voice your concerns could help move the needle on critical decisions involved with California worker rights.

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