heatwaveCal/OSHA’s recent revisions to the state’s heat illness prevention standard are expected to take effect in time for the upcoming growing season -- and over agriculture industry objections. The board asked to California Office of Administrative Law to approve a sooner-than-usual effective date of May 1 – something that would require employers to change procedures and train employees quickly, in order to comply with the standard.

The changes include specific requirements for water, which must be fresh, “suitably cool” and as close as possible to workers, and shade, which has to be made available to workers when the thermostat hits 80, as opposed to the previous temperature standard of 85.

The California Farm Bureau Federation said changes are unnecessary and could create confusion among employers.

The revisions also effect emergency response procedures, acclimation and training, specifying that workers taking a "preventive cool-down rest" must be monitored for symptoms of heat illness, encouraged to remain in the shade and not ordered back to work until symptoms are gone. Additionally, workers who show symptoms must be provided appropriate first aid or emergency response.

The revised standard strengthens high-heat procedures triggered at 95 degrees so that employers ensure "effective" observation and monitoring, implement a mandatory buddy system and communicate regularly with employees working by themselves.

In a provision that only pertains to agriculture, employees must be provided with a minimum 10-minute cool-down period every two hours during high-heat periods.

The changes were actually less extensive than what Cal/OSHA had originally considered. The agency proposed requiring water to be placed no more than 400 feet from worksites and wanted the high-heat provisions to go into effect at 90 degrees, instead of 95.

New employees must be closely observed for their first two weeks on the job.