Know your rights during a California heat wave: Here’s how outdoor employees are protected

·3 min read

Sacramento is currently in its longest anticipated triple-digit heat wave of the year and those working outdoors are having a more difficult time dodging the heat than others.

Here’s the latest on Sacramento triple-digit heat wave — expected as longest of 2022 so far

California employees working outdoors in agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction and transportation industries are protected under the Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez heat illness standard, the California Department of Industrial Relations wrote on its website.

If you work outdoors within one of the listed California industries, here’s what you need to know about your heat protection rights:

Is your employer giving you free water?

Employers should provide their employees with a continued supply of free fresh, pure and cool drinking water and it should be close to where their employees are working, according to the heat prevention standard.

If water cannot be continuously supplied, enough should be given to employees at the start of their shift and should equate to one quart per employee per hour and last their entire shift.

There are a few exceptions to the water rule.

Employers can opt to give their employees smaller amounts of water if they have a method of replenishment during their workers’ shifts to still equate to one quart or more per hour. Employers should also be encouraging their employees to frequently drink water.

Are you being supplied with shade?

When outdoor work area temperatures exceed 80 degrees, employers must maintain one of more areas with shade at all times while their employees are present, according to the heat illness prevention standard. The shaded areas can be outside, ventilated or cooled — but they must be big enough for their employees to rest comfortably without being in the sun or touching one another.

The same rules apply to shaded meal periods.

Employers should be encouraging their employees to take rests in the shade. If an employee is experiencing heat-related illness symptoms, they should be monitored, encouraged to stay in the shade and not ordered to work until their symptoms have subsided.

If they don’t, the employer should take action.

Shade should be provided by an employee’s request when outdoor work area temperatures don’t exceed 80 degrees. Employees working in the agricultural industry in 95-degree temperatures or greater should be given at least a 10-minute break every two hours.

There are a few exceptions to the shade rule, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations:

  1. If an employer can prove that it’s either unsafe or infeasible to have a shaded work area for their employees, they can create alternative access to shade if it’s equivalent to a standard shaded area.

  2. Except for those working in the agricultural industry, cooling measures other than shade (misting machines for example) can be provided to employees if the employer can prove the alternative is just as effective as a standard cooling area.

How do I file a compliant?

It’s unlawful for a California employer within the agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction and transportation industries to discharge or discriminate against their outdoor workers for exercising these rights, the California Department of Industrial Relations wrote on its website.

If your right has been violated, you can file a complaint by calling the Cal-OSHA district office that serves your job site or by emailing your district office. To find the office that serves your location, enter your workplace’s ZIP code or city into the California Department of Industrial Relations’ website.

Here’s what you’ll need to file a complaint, the Department of Industrial Relations wrote on its website:

  1. Name, address and telephone number of the worksite

  2. Name and job title of the manager at the worksite

  3. Your name, address, telephone number and email address

  4. Detailed description of the hazard or location of the hazard

  5. Employees injured or having symptoms caused by the hazard and whether the employees have received medical treatment for their injuries or symptoms

  6. How long you expect the hazard will continue to exist at the worksite

The California Department of Industrial Relations provides its complete list of information needed to file a complaint on its website. Your name remains confidential, unless you request otherwise.

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