Employers aim for full compliance with heat safety rules

Issue Date: April 6, 2011
By Christine Souza

Aiming for full compliance with the state heat-safety standard, California Farm Bureau Director of Labor Affairs Bryan Little, who also serves as chief operating officer for the Farm Employers Labor Service, has organized several hundred hours' worth of training and outreach sessions for employers and their employees. Little said FELS and Farm Bureau plan to continue efforts to train and educate farm employers and employees on how to prevent heat illness.

"We hope to achieve full compliance with the Heat Illness Protection Standard, and we know from experience that persistence is the key," Little said. "The safety of employees on California farms and ranches is a high priority because we want to send everyone home safe and healthy at the end of every day."

The regional enforcement manager for the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, William Krycia, said Cal/OSHA will continue with inspections, although he said visits to agricultural operations will decrease somewhat this season as the agency puts greater emphasis on construction.

"Looking at compliance rates, you folks have done a phenomenal job at really affecting agriculture and creating a significant change in safety culture," Krycia said during a presentation to the 2011 AgSafe Conference in Monterey. "We had a significant increase in overall compliance. From 2008 to 2009, the compliance for agriculture is about 80 percent, the same as 2010, so we're going to focus on construction. But I want to caution you, this doesn't mean we're abandoning agriculture."

A portion of Krycia's presentation reviewed changes to the California standard that became effective in November 2010. The revisions included features of enforcement guidance that Cal/OSHA created in cooperation with employer representatives and issued in March 2009.

The Heat Illness Prevention Standard includes the following guidelines:

  • Water: An employer must have on hand either 1 quart of drinking water per hour per employee at shift's start or effective procedures to replenish the water supply so each employee can drink that much water; employees must be encouraged to drink water frequently.
  • Shade: When the temperature is greater than 85 degrees, shade must be present for at least 25 percent of a crew's employees and if less than 85 degrees, timely access to shade must be provided upon an employee's request.
  • High heat: When the temperature is greater than or equal to 95 degrees, employers must: ensure effective communication so employees can contact their supervisor when necessary; observe employees for alertness and signs or symptoms of heat illness; remind employees throughout the work shift to drink plenty of water; and closely supervise new employees for the first 14 days of employment (unless a newly hired employee indicates he had been doing similar outdoor work for at least 10 of the past 30 days for four or more hours per day).
  • Training: Workers must be trained before beginning work where exposure to heat illness could occur, including prevention and procedures if heat illness occurs.
  • Written procedures: An employer must have written compliance and emergency procedures.

Krycia also described Assembly Bill 2774, legislation that took effect Jan. 1 and changed the way the agency looks at serious violations. The bill requires that, before it issues a serious violation, Cal/OSHA consider relevant training for employees and supervisors to prevent employee exposure, the supervision of employees and the employer's procedures for communicating to employees.

"AB 2774 allows an employer the opportunity to prove that it took all reasonable and responsible measures to anticipate and prevent a serious violation or hazard once discovered," Little said.

Along with the update on current heat illness regulations, Krycia recommended that employers place greater emphasis on their Injury and Illness Prevention Program and field sanitation standard, which rank among the most common citations issued by the agency.

"AB 2774 puts an even greater premium on having and implementing an Injury and Illness Prevention Program," Little said. "Having an IIPP in place that you're living by and implementing day by day will give you a good chance of being able to argue that you did everything you could to deal with that hazard."

Contact FELS for information about upcoming heat-illness training sessions and other labor-related information at 800-753-9073, info@fels.net or www.fels.net.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.