Indoor Heat Hazards Cal/OSHA Turns Up the Heat on Employers' Injury and Illness Prevention Programs

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10/21/2017

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Indoor Heat Hazards
Cal/OSHA Turns Up the Heat on Employers’ Injury and Illness Prevention Programs

By: Jacquelyn Larson

Employers now need to seriously consider whether to include indoor heat hazards in their Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (“IIPP”).

It is well known that employers in California must have an IIPP to comply with occupational safety and health standards. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA (“Cal/OSHA”) has particular standards that employers must meet for specific hazards, including standards for outdoor heat hazards. However, in October 2015, the California Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (“Appeals Board”) upheld citations made by Cal/OSHA against employers for failing to adequately address indoor heat hazards.

The citations stemmed from an incident in 2011, where an employee working inside a metal freight container suffered heat stroke after temperatures inside the container reached 100 degrees or higher. The temporary agency supervisor arranged for the employee to be transported to a local clinic by another employee she also suspected might be experiencing heat stroke. The local clinic doctor referred the employee to the Emergency Room, but the employee did not go. The next day, after showing up for work, he went to the Emergency Room on his own and was hospitalized for three days.

In January 2012, Cal/OSHA issued serious citations to both the temporary staffing agency Tri-State Staffing and the warehouse operator National Distribution Center, with penalties of $18,000 each. The Appeals Board upheld the citations, agreeing with Cal/OSHA that both employers had failed to implement sufficient corrective measures both to address the heat hazard at the site, and to aid the employee when he presented symptoms of heat stroke.  The Board also found that both employers failed to provide sufficient training on indoor heat illness. Although they provided some training, it was provided by the very supervisor who failed to identify the employee’s heat stroke and failed to properly respond to it.

COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:

There are several lessons to take away from this. First, employers are now on notice that they must anticipate whether a heat illness prevention plan should also be in place for their indoor facilities. On top of the measures the employers had in place in this case (providing water coolers, fans to assist with ventilation, and air-conditioned areas), the Appeals Board suggested monitoring the temperature, monitoring employees once the temperature reached 95 degrees, requiring heavy labor to be done at earlier times in the day, and rotating employees to lessen exposure to hot areas.

Second, this case opens the door for citations to be issued for any number of hazards not identified by a Cal/OSHA standard. Employers should carefully assess and anticipate all hazards that their employees could potentially be exposed to, as well as have proper response procedures in place. Employers should also have a designated person to respond to medical emergencies. 

Third, employers should note that the staffing agency was also held liable. This means employers with employees working at others’ facilities should be aware of the IIPPs in place at those facilities, as the employer could be held responsible for that facility’s failings.

Finally, this case is a warning that simply providing training may not be sufficient. If supervisors provide the training, they must be proficient in all areas that they provide training for, and must know exactly what to do in case of injury or illness.

This case widens the door as to what employers may be cited for related to their IIPPs. Contact the Saqui Law Group if you have any questions as to what may qualify as a workplace hazard (hint: if you can think of it, it probably qualifies), and what you should do about it.

 


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