Employee’s Heat Exhaustion At Local Store Raises Concerns Over Worker Safety and Employer Responsibility (Attorney Beatriz Trejo On KGET-17 News)
A woman suffered heat exhaustion after working at a 99 Cents Only Store in Bakersfield that had been without air conditioning for nearly four months, KGET-17 news reported, calling into question the responsibility of employers to protect workers.
The woman was taken to a local hospital by Kern County Fire Department personnel. An employee of the business next door to the 99 Cents Only Store told KGET-17 she went into the store herself and could not stand the heat for more than a minute. Chain | Cohn | Clark work injury lawyer Beatriz Trejo explained to KGET-17 the rights that workers have in California, as well as provided viewers with tips on what employees can do if they experience heat exhaustion.
Watch the news segment by clicking here, and read more below for information on employer responsibilities and safety tips.
Only three states currently have heat exposure standards for all outdoor workers — California, Minnesota and Washington — but Oregon, Colorado and Nevada implemented rules requiring mandatory breaks, shade and cold water last year, according to California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
From 2000 to 2017, there were about 16,000 cases of serious heat illness, such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion and even death among California workers, according to the California Department of Public Health. About 20% of those cases occurred indoors, though the numbers could be higher since heat illness is often underreported. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that heat-related illnesses cause about 650 deaths each year in the United States.
California has rules that require employers to provide a reasonably safe workplace, as well as specific rules requiring employers to take certain actions to protect workers from extreme heat while working outside. However, there aren’t rules around extreme heat for indoor workers who may have to work without sufficient air conditioning or ventilation.
In 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2238, which sets up a system to rank extreme heat events similar to the way hurricanes are ranked by severity, as well as two other bills which set up an “advisory committee” on the effects of extreme heat on workers as well as on business and the state economy, and require health officials to provide guidance and information on how outdoor heat affects workers who are pregnant.
EMPLOYER RULES | WORKER RIGHTS
Cal/OSHA’s heat illness prevention standard applies to all outdoor worksites. To prevent heat illness, the law requires employers to provide outdoor workers fresh water, access to shade at 80 degrees and, whenever requested by a worker, cool-down rest breaks in addition to regular breaks. Employers must also maintain a written prevention plan with effective training for supervisors to recognize the common signs and symptoms of heat illness, and what to do in case of an emergency.
In certain industries, when the temperature at outdoor worksites reaches or exceeds 95 degrees, Cal/OSHA’s standard requires additional protections. The industries with additional high-heat requirements are agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction and transportation of agricultural products, construction materials or other heavy materials. High-heat procedures include ensuring employees are observed regularly for signs of heat illness and establishing effective communication methods so workers can contact a supervisor when needed. Employers with outdoor workers in all industries must take the following steps to prevent heat illness:
- 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.
A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that heat-related workplace injuries cost the state $525 million to $875 million per year. Young workers are most at risk of heat-related injuries, as they are less likely to be aware of the dangers and less likely to have access to shade or water. The study also found that heat-related injuries can lead to long-term health problems, such as kidney failure and heart disease. The authors of the study call for more research on the effects of heat on workers and for stronger regulations to protect workers from heat-related injuries.
Another UCLA study examined over 11 million workers’ compensation claims in California, and showed that with increased heat comes an increased risk of health impacts on workers, no matter if employees are indoors or outside. On days with temperatures above 90 degrees, there was a 6% to 9% increase in injury risk versus days with temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s. And temperatures reached 100 or more, the risk of injuries increased by 10%-15%.
HEAT ILLNESS: WHAT TO DO
There are four types of heat disorders to watch out for: sunburns, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. In general, signs of these ailments include extremely high body temperature (103 or higher), dizziness, nausea, confusion, and headache. If someone shows these signs, call 9-1-1 and begin cooling the individual.
Here’s how to identify and treat these illnesses specifically:
- Heat Cramps: Signs include muscle pains or spasms in the stomach, arms or legs. Take action by going to a cooler location, remove excess clothing, take sips of cool sports drinks with salt and sugar, and get medical help if cramps last more than an hour.
- Heat Exhaustion: Signs include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, fainting, nausea, and vomiting. Take action by going to an air-conditioned place and lying down, loosen or remove clothing, take a cool bath, take sips of cool sports drinks with salt and sugar, and get medical help if symptoms get worse or last more than an hour.
- Heat Stroke: Signs include extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees) taken orally, red, hot and dry skin with no sweat, rapid strong pulse, dizziness, confusion or unconsciousness. Take action by calling 9-1-1 or getting the person to a hospital immediately. Cool down with whatever methods are available until medical help arrives.
If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.