It is the new normal that businesses almost everywhere in the U.S. must adopt to. Extreme weather. As you have probably heard by now, 2012 was the warmest year in recorded history for the country, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

2012 was a full 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average, and a full degree hotter than the previous record year, 1998, according to NOAA.

Texas takes a beating

Texas has been particularly battered by extreme weather. The state is currently in a multi-year drought. Ninety-five percent of the state is in some level of drought, according to the U.S. drought monitoring map.

Plus, five billion-dollar disasters hit Texas in 2012, according to NOAA. Tornadoes struck Dallas-Fort Worth in April, causing serious hail damage and destruction from high winds. More tornadoes followed later last April, and in May and June. June also saw a hail storm wreak damage in Texas. And the drought in some parts of the state continued to bedevil farmers.

“Climate change is a fairly large part of it,” Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon told State Impact Texas.  (State Impact is a collaboration of KUT Austin radio, KUHF Houston and National Public Radio.) More greenhouse gases mean a warmer and warmer climate. La Nina, the weather pattern largely responsible for Texas’s drought, tends to make for warmer temperatures, especially in the winter time, said Nielsen-Gammon.

Hot temperatures are nothing new in southern states such as Texas, but in the new normal, hot spills are getting hotter and lasting longer. Several years back, the state capital of Austin had 90 days of triple-digit weather.  “It was just unbearable,” a store owner told State Impact Texas.

In Texas in 2012, 11 of 12 months recorded above-normal temperatures. And the warming is part of a longer trend, with an increase of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in average Texas temperatures since the 1970s, notes Nielsen-Gammon.

Cal/OSHA’s model: The heat prevention standard

The state of California has gone beyond federal OSHA voluntary guidelines and has published a heat illness prevention standard that went into effect November 4, 2010. Employers everywhere can learn how to prevent heat illness by reading Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention enforcement Q&A.

The standard applies to all outdoor places of employment. Added requirements must be met by these industries: agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction, and transportation and delivery of agricultural products, constructions products, or heavy equipment such as furniture, lumber, freight and cargo. The standard requires California employers to take these four steps:

  • Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention.
  • Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least one quart per hour, and encourage them to do so.
  • Provide access to shade and encourage employees to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes. They should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.
  • Develop and implement written procedures for complying with the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard.

Cal/OSHA standard details

Here are some important issues covered in the Q&A:

What are the environmental risk factors for heat illness?

Environmental risk factors include “air temperature, relative humidity, radiant heat from the sun and other sources, conductive heat sources such as the ground, air movement, workload severity and duration, protective clothing and personal protective equipment worn by employees.”

How can you monitor the weather and evaluate the severity of environmental risk factors for heat illness?

It is critical that employers track the weather and routinely check for approaching heat waves. Heat waves are the primary cause of heat-related illnesses and fatalities in the state. The supervisor should use a thermometer to keep track of the temperature at the worksite on hot days.

Weather forecasts and information are broadcast on NOAA Weather radio and can be accessed at:

What is considered sufficient access to drinking water?

Potable drinking water must always be placed in locations readily accessible to all employees. The water provided must be fresh and pure, suitably cool, and in sufficient amounts, taking into account the air temperature, humidity, and the nature of the work performed, to meet the needs of all employees.

What written procedures should an employer develop to comply with the requirements of this standard?

  • Procedures for water replenishment,
  • Employee access to shade and how employees will be encouraged to take a cool-down rest,
  • Acclimatization and weather monitoring,
  • High heat procedures,
  • Employee and supervisor training,
  • Responding to symptoms of possible heat illness,
  • How emergency medical services will be provided should they become necessary,
  • How emergency medical services providers will be contacted,
  • How employees will be transported to a point where they can be reached by an emergency medical service provider if necessary,
  • How, in the event of an emergency, clear and precise directions to the worksite will be provided as needed to the emergency responder, and
  • How a designated person will ensure that emergency procedures are invoked when appropriate.