Seventeen years ago California passed one of the nation’s first workplace heat stress rules. Since then California has been inundated with heat waves resulting from global warming. A new study, “Feeling the Heat: How California’s Workplace Heat Standards Can Inform Stronger Protections Nationwide,” finds that the state’s heat stress rule provides some protection, but that its coverage is limited, it is often unenforced, and that penalties are so modest that many employers simply ignore it. The study calls for expanding the rule to all California workers, increasing enforcement, and establishing a federal heat standard for all workers in the US.
The California rule requires employers to provide heat training, free drinking water, and shade to employees. It covers only outdoor workers, but the study identified heat-related cases in 463 different industries outside agriculture and construction, including janitorial services, home health care, museums, and newspaper publishers.
The study found that hundreds of businesses repeatedly violated the rule but avoided the usually higher fines meted out to repeat violators. UPS received 41 citations for violating the heat standard but was issued only one for a repeat violation.
Only Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, and Washington have similar workplace heat stress rules. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been working for years on a national heat stress standard but none has so far been issued. Rep, Judy Chu and Sen. Alex Padilla of California and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio have introduced legislation to accelerate development of such a standard.