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Occupational Health Watch: June 2021

Summer is Here:
Protect Workers from Heat-Related Illness as Things Heat Up

As vaccination rates increase and COVID-19 risk decreases around the state, California businesses are opening up. The economy – and the weather – are heating up. As climate change increases temperatures, and heat waves happen more and more frequently, outdoor workers and others who perform physically demanding work are at risk for heat-related illness, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These conditions are serious and can result in damage to the brain, nervous system, and kidneys, and even death. These risks increase during the summer when temperatures and humidity are high.

CDPH study of heat-related illness in California identified occupational and demographic groups that are particularly susceptible. firefighter in full gear and backpack uses a hose to spray water in a wildfireOccupational groups with the highest heat-related illness rates were Protective Services (firefighters, police, corrections) and Farming, Fishing, and Forestry (agriculture). Firefighters were the individual occupation with the highest illness rate, and OHB's Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program has recently investigated firefighter fatalities due to heat-related illness. Many other groups of workers are also at risk.

Heat-related illness is preventable. The Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard requires employers to take important measures to protect their employees, such as:

  • Plan – Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.

  • Training – Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention.

  • Water – Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so that each worker can drink at least 1 quart per hour, and encourage workers to do so.

  • Rest – Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating. Workers should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.

  • Shade – Provide proper shade when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Workers have the right to request and be provided shade to cool off at any time.

Cal/OSHA and others offer many tools and resources to assist employers in protecting their workforce from this serious hazard.

Courtesy of Cal/OSHA​​


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