Cal OSHA board passes indoor heat protections for workers

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Friday, June 21, 2024
Cal OSHA board passes indoor heat protections for workers
Workers in places like warehouses and kitchens where temperatures can rise to uncomfortable levels are getting new protections thanks to Cal OSHA.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- Summer heat is on the rise and for many workers in Southern California it can be a miserable time of year.

Especially for warehouse workers.

"Now that it is getting hotter, I am even more worried about myself and my coworkers. I have seen some people faint from the heat," said Carrie Stone, who works at an Amazon warehouse in Moreno.

Warehouses operators like Amazon say the company has climate-control measures in place - but they may soon have to do more.

On Thursday, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board unanimously passed heat standards titled Heat Illness Prevention in Indoor Place of Employment.

"This is really significant. Up until now workers have not had these rights or protections and there has not been clear guidance to employers about what they need to do to keep workers safe," said attorney Tim Shadix with the Warehouse Workers Resource Center.

The nonprofit warehouse workers advocacy group was one of several to speak in favor of indoor heat regulations.

The new rules require employers to provide heat safety training, cooling areas and water when the indoor temperature reaches 82 degrees.

If the temperature exceeds that, then required measures can include cooling devices, adjustments in work schedules, more breaks and slower production pace.

"In my last job as a pastry chef, I suffered from heat illness due to extreme indoor heat," said Colleen Koperek with the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

"I was dry heaving in between taking rounds of pastries out of the oven and I had to quit, effectively ending my career," said Koperek.

Koperek is now a restaurant worker advocate who spoke to the board before the vote. Unlike warehouse workers, kitchen employees experience year-round sweltering temperatures.

While the indoor heat regulations have the support of employee groups some business advocates worry the regulations would be hard to implement for some businesses.

"We do remain concerned about the feasibility for small employers, particularly those who don't control the physical structure their business is in if you rent space to create the required cool-down zones," said Robert Moutrie, policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce.

Moutrie said the business community did support many of the measures to ensure employee safety.

The Heat Illness Prevention in Indoor Place of Employment standards will now go before the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) which has 30 days to review it. However, the CAL OSHA board has asked the agency to expedite the matter in order to have the heat regulations in place sooner.