Working outdoors in the heat?

Posted in the Sacramento Bee on July 28, 2021

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Here’s what Californians need to know about their rights

California in 2005 became the first state to establish a standard to protect outdoor workers from heat exposure.

What rights do I have under this standard?

Water: Workers must have access to fresh, pure, free and “suitably cool” drinking water. Water must be available “as close as practicable” to the areas where they are working. For places where water is not “continuously supplied,” workers must be given at least one quart of drinking water per hour for the entire shift.

Shade: Employers must have one or more areas with shade at all times if the temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A shaded area must be open to the air or provided with ventilation or cooling. The area needs to be as close as practicable to where employees work. Employees can request shade even if the temperature is below 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, employers can be granted exceptions if they use other cooling measures such as misting machines that provide “equivalent protection.” Those in the agricultural industry seeking exceptions also need to demonstrate that it is not possible or unsafe to have a shade structure at their workplace.

Cal-OSHA warns that shades must allow the body to cool. Metal storage sheds, for instance, are not considered shades unless they provide a comparable cooling environment.

Rest: Workers must be allowed and encouraged to take a preventive cooldown break in the shade. They can’t be ordered back to work until any signs or symptoms of heat illness have abated. The break must be at least five minutes, in addition to the time workers took to get to the shade.

The standard has a special provision for farmworkers: If the temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit, they must be allowed to take at least a 10-minute cool-down break every two hours.

Monitoring: Supervisors must closely observe their workers during heatwaves, defined as days where high temperatures are above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit above the average highs in the preceding five days.

Supervisors must take immediate action, such as offering onsite first aid or emergency medical services, if they see or hear signs or symptoms of heat illness in workers. Symptoms can include staggering, vomiting, disorientation and decreased level of consciousness.

Training: Employers must have a heat illness prevention plan in writing. They also must train employees on various subjects, such as symptoms of possible heat illness as well as workers’ rights to water, shade and rests.

When does this standard apply to me?

The standard applies to all outdoor workplaces.

My employer is not giving me those rights. What can I do?

Workers can call a hotline where they can file a confidential complaint: 877-99-CALOR (877-992-2567). They can also contact their Cal-OSHA office, by calling 1-866-924-9757 or visiting the agency’s website.

Cal-OSHA advises workers when reporting to be as specific as possible about how the heat affects them.

I work indoors. What about me?

Cal-OSHA is still working on creating specific rules for those working indoors. However, the agency has ways to cite employers for generally creating unsafe working conditions. Reach out to Cal-OSHA if you believe that’s the case.

Where can I learn more about those rules?

Workers can visit, a website created by the state to inform them of the standard. The website is also available in Spanish.

More information is also available at the California Department of Industrial Relations’ website, at

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