Summer is officially here, and if you didn’t notice that on the calendar, you certainly did by stepping outside. For most of us, dealing with the heat means nothing more than the brief furnace blast between air-conditioned homes, stores, vehicles, etc. Similarly, for many employees toiling away in their air-conditioned cubicles, extreme heat is a non-issue. However, the heat is definitely a major concern for those employees who work outside or in hot indoor environments (i.e. – warehouses). They will have to take certain measures to ensure they remain adequately hydrated and do not overheat. But what about employers? Do they face any legal issues when it comes to extreme heat and the workplace?
As an employer, it is not enough to simply assume that your employees can, and will, take proper care of themselves. While no one is advocating for a work environment where cameras track everyone’s movements, employers are required to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. How can an employer do this when the workplace is outside in the heat, or in large indoor spaces that become hot? This is where proper preparation and training can not only ensure a safe workplace, but can also save lives and avoid costly litigation.
First and foremost, pay attention to the weather forecast! In today’s world with 5, 7 and 10-day forecasts, it is virtually impossible to not be aware of when temperatures are going to soar, stay above-average for a prolonged period, or humidity will be high. If you know the heat is coming, then prepare! For large indoor spaces without air-conditioning, bring in portable fans and open windows for increased ventilation, as well as make sure employees have cold water available to them (i.e. – ice chests with bottled water). Sorry folks, but simply having a water hose is not going to get the job done. Also, employers should message their employees to remind them to take more breaks than normal (yes, the decreased productivity is worth it), and how to recognize the symptoms of heat rash, cramps and exhaustion….so the symptoms don’t eventually become heat stroke!
As part of heat illness prevention, Cal/OSHA requires California employers to take four steps to prevent heat illness: (1) Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention; (2) Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least 1 quart per hour or four 8 ounce glasses, of water per hour, and encourage them to do so; (3) Provide access to shade and encourage employees to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least 5 minutes (they should not wait until they feel sick to cool down); and (4) Develop and implement written procedures for complying with the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard. Further information can be found athttps://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/heatillnessinfo.html
So, from the lovely air-conditioned offices of Bradley & Gmelich LLP, enjoy the Summer months! Just remember, it is not enough to assume that people (i.e. – employees) will take care of themselves. Employers must take steps to ensure their safety, and with some simple common sense planning and training, we can all get through the heat together….and safely!