IR #2008-48
July 8, 2008

Kate McGuire
Dean Fryer
(415) 703-5050

Cal/OSHA stresses importance of taking precautions to prevent heat illnesses

Oakland—July 8, 2008—With triple digit temperatures scorching many regions of the state, Cal/OSHA urges employers to observe the precautions specified in the heat illness prevention regulation. For employees working outdoors, the hot sun with high temperatures can be life-threatening.

“Just an increase of two degrees in normal body temperature can affect mental performance, and an increase of five degrees can result in serious illness or death,” said Len Welsh, Chief of Cal/OSHA. “It is critically important for those who work in high heat, and particularly those who supervise them, to understand how rapidly the human body can be damaged if simple precautions like drinking lots of cool or cold water, resting in shaded or cool areas, and responding rapidly to warning signs of heat illness, are not taken.

Under the heat illness prevention regulation, employers are required to take four basic steps to prevent heat illness at all outdoor worksites.  These include developing and implementing written procedures on heat illness prevention, and providing heat illness training to all employees--especially those who are not proficient in the English language.

In addition, employers must provide their employees readily accessible, clean and cool drinking water and ample shade or cooling areas.  The hotter the weather, the more employees should be encouraged to take periodic breaks in the shade and pace themselves.  Workers should also be encouraged to drink four 8-ounce cups of cool fresh water per hour, and as much more than that as they want.  Avoiding alcoholic beverages is recommended, even after work, since they can dangerously dehydrate the body for 24 hours or more after being ingested.  Sugary drinks such as soda or sports drinks, caffeine from coffee, energy drinks or iced tea are also not recommended.

Employers must recognize early warning signs of heat illness and train their supervisors and workers on symptom recognition as well. Some early symptoms and signs of heat illness to watch for are headaches, muscle cramps and fatigue.  These symptoms should disappear rapidly if an employee rests and cools off.  If they do not, it is time to summon emergency medical services.  If an employee exhibits nausea or vomiting, excessive sweating or hot dry skin, mental confusion, seizures, fainting or loss of consciousness, call for emergency medical services immediately while you are getting him or her to the coolest area you can find.

Some employees who have health problems or medical conditions can be especially vulnerable to heat.  Diabetics need to know that they have this vulnerability, as do many people who are taking anti-inflammatory medications or medications for high blood pressure.  These employees need to be extra vigilant for indications that they are reacting adversely to heat exposure.  

Employers with workers near sources of heat or inside buildings with limited cooling capabilities must ensure that their Injury and Illness Prevention Programs are effective, in writing, and deal squarely with the heat hazards in their workplaces. Cal/OSHA studies show effective reduction of heat illness depends on employers having well thought out written procedures, ready access to water and cooling areas, procedures to allow for acclimatization of new employees or those who have not had recent exposure to hot working conditions, vigilant weather monitoring, preparation and training for emergency response, and detailed employee and supervisor training.

Under Governor Schwarzenegger's leadership, California became the first state in the nation to develop a safety and health regulation addressing heat illness in 2005. Cal/OSHA issued permanent heat illness prevention regulations to protect outdoor workers in 2006.

For more information on heat illness prevention and training materials visit the Cal/OSHA Web site at Employees with work-related questions or complaints may call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at 1-866-924-9757.

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