OSH Appeals Board Decision in Heat Illness Prevention Case Adds Clarity to Provision of Water Requirements
Sacramento—The Department of Industrial Relations’ Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (OSHAB) has issued a precedential decision regarding the provision of water at outdoor worksites, affirming that it must be as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working to encourage frequent consumption.
“This decision provides clarity and should serve as a reminder that employers must take adequate steps to ensure that potable drinking water is as close as practicable to workers,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Jeff Killip. “Staying adequately hydrated is essential to preventing heat illness, particularly during the hot summer months.”
The case clarified the definition of what “as close as practicable” means with water placement at the workplace.
Cal/OSHA opened a complaint-initiated safety inspection at the Rios Farming Co. vineyard in St. Helena on August 6, 2018. Inspectors found some workers had to climb through multiple grape trellises to access drinking water. On January 7, 2019, Cal/OSHA cited Rios Farming Co. for a repeat-serious violation for not having water as close as practicable for their employees.
Rios Farming Co. appealed the citation and an administrative law judge affirmed the citation on October 12, 2022, with a modified penalty of $27,000.
OSHAB issued its decision on February 6, 2023, which clarifies that the term “as close as practicable” in terms of providing water to prevent heat illness means that the water must be as close as reasonably can be accomplished in order to encourage frequent water consumption. In this case, the ALJ found, and the OSHAB affirmed, that the trellises were an obstacle that discouraged employees from frequently drinking water. The ALJ and Board further found that other reasonable options were available to the employer, such as providing a jug of water in each row where the employees were working or providing individual water bottles that employees could carry with them and refill from the jugs.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA is a division with the Department of Industrial Relations that helps protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job in almost every workplace in California. Employers who have questions or want assistance with workplace health and safety programs can call Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Services Branch at 800-963-9424.
Workers who have questions about their rights or have questions about workplace protections can call Cal/OSHA’s Bilingual Call Center at 833-579-0927 to speak with a Cal/OSHA representative. Complaints about workplace safety and health hazards can be filed confidentially with Cal/OSHA district offices. Information on heat illness prevention and other resources can be found on Cal/OSHA’s website.
The Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board is a three-member, judicial body appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate to handle appeals from private and public-sector employers regarding citations issued by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health for alleged violation of workplace safety and health laws and regulations. The mission of the Appeals Board is to fairly, timely and efficiently resolve appeals and to provide clear, consistent guidance to the public, thereby promoting workplace safety and health.
Media Contact: Communications@dir.ca.gov, (510) 286-1161