California is all set to become the third state in the US to mandate a heat protection policy for indoor workers. With new heat protection standards, this policy is expected to be effective by early August. This impending regulation to safeguard indoor workers from extreme heat is a significant step toward the growing concern for workers’ health as climate change intensifies heatwaves. 

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has unanimously approved this new workplace rule to protect indoor workers from hazardous, high-temperature working conditions. The regulation is awaiting final approval from the state’s Office of Administrative Law, which is likely to expedite the process. 

Initially, the heat rule was slated for implementation in 2019, but the development of this policy came after a prolonged delay of five years of setbacks. Once in effect, the policy will offer necessary protections to approximately 1.4 million indoor workers in the state, including workers in warehouses, restaurants, and manufacturing jobs. 

According to the heat protection regulation, employers must monitor workers for heat-related illnesses and provide water, breaks, and cool areas when indoor temperatures reach 82 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature rises to 87 degrees, additional measures are required, such as more frequent breaks, adjusted work schedules, and provision of cooling devices. 

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After Oregon and Minnesota, California will be one of the three states with heat protection regulations for indoor workers. This mandate builds on California’s 2006 heat standards for outdoor workers in agriculture and construction. In contrast, states like Texas and Florida have recently enacted laws that weaken protections for workers against extreme heat. These laws prevent local regulations that mandate water breaks or shaded rest for outdoor workers. 

This move has sparked concerns among labor advocacy groups, who are demanding comprehensive heat protection on a national level. This is an essential step that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has yet to adopt. Anastacia Nicol Wright, policy manager at WorkSafe, a reputed workplace health and safety regulator and workplace injury insurer, highlighted the necessity of immediate action, stating, “Workers need these protections as soon as possible.” 

However, the new heat protection policy will not cover state and local correctional facility officers or other prison employees. Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration has raised concerns about the cost of compliance for the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which led to the exemption. Nicol Wright expressed disappointment over this exclusion, highlighting the broader impact on both workers and incarcerated individuals, many of whom are enduring extreme heat without central air conditioning. 

Despite this welcoming progress, some advocacy groups believe that the temperature mark set by the new regulations still needs to be lowered. Tim Shadix, legal director at the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, revealed that the risk of illness due to heat is influenced by other factors apart from temperature, such as humidity and physical exertion. However, he is hopeful that this heat policy by California will inspire other states and the federal government to adopt similar protections for workers. 

The toll of extreme heat is evident as heat-related fatalities are rising annually in the United States compared to deaths due to weather-related issues. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022, 43 workplace deaths were reported due to environmental heat exposure, up from 36 in 2021. 

While employers in California are preparing for the new regulations, some industries, such as restaurants, are battling specific challenges due to the inherently hot conditions of their workplace. Robert Moutrie, a senior policy advocate with the California Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the need for substantial adjustments in practices and training while highlighting businesses’ limited time to comply with the new rules. 

California’s move to implement a heat protection law for indoor workers is a critical advancement in worker safety. It is a precedent for other states and can influence federal regulations.