Editor’s note: This story is republished from CalMatters, a public interest news outlet covering the important issues affecting all of California.
Do you have an experience with heat waves at work that you’d like to share? Get in touch with us at [email protected]. We’ve also included more information about how to stay safe during heat waves at the bottom of this article.
With more heat waves expected this summer, California officials are trying to assess the long-term economic impact on workers and businesses — and what more can be done to protect workers bearing the brunt of extreme temperatures.
Although California is one of the few states with heat standards protecting outdoor workers, advocates and workers say enforcement is still a struggle. Meanwhile the state has been trying for years to create indoor workplace heat rules.
A 2021 study of California worker compensation data by a left-leaning economic research nonprofit shows hot days lead to increased workplace accidents across California. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth study estimates hot temperatures have caused at least 360,000 workplace injuries in California from 2001 to 2018, or about 20,000 injuries a year.
The welfare impacts associated with heat-related workplace injuries may be on the order of $525 million to $875 million per year in California.
Researchers examined California workers compensation data and tracked daily temperatures down to the zip code. They compared the number of worker injuries and illnesses on 85-to-105-degree days to days when temperatures hovered around 60 degrees.
A new state advisory committee is set to use this data as a roadmap to tackle hot workplace issues. The group of state agency staffers and scholars will examine persistent problems with underreported heat-related illness and injuries, as well as gaps in data collection and the financial toll on workers and businesses when temperatures rise and production falls.
Young workers at risk
A day above 100 degrees can lead to a 10-15% increase in same-day injuries on the job, the study says, with injuries hitting low-wage workers hardest. And recovering from a heat-related injury or illness costs the average worker $35,000, including health care and long-term wage impact.
“This implies that the welfare impacts associated with heat-related workplace injuries may be on the order of $525 million to $875 million per year in California alone,” the study authors wrote.
The study says workplace injuries include incidents not usually linked to heat, such as falling from heights, getting struck by a vehicle or mishandling dangerous machinery. Research links high temperatures to reduced cognitive performance and decision-making.
The lead author of the study, University of Pennsylvania professor R. Jisung Park, is a member of the advisor committee. He and his coauthors found that low-wage workers, especially young men, face the greatest risks of heat injuries, even in mostly-indoor workplaces like restaurants or warehouses.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/GKazD/3/
The state’s advisory committee met for the first time at the end of June. Its mandate is part of a package of heat-related legislation passed last year.
Gov. Gavin Newsom in September signed several bills creating the first extreme heat warning and ranking system in the nation, directing the California Department of Public Health to study the impact of extreme heat on pregnant workers and encouraging local governments to invest in protections against extreme heat and other climate effects.
“There are certain sectors that are going to be heavily influenced of course, including food production,” said Daniel Sumner, an advisory committee member who is an agricultural and labor economist at UC Davis. “I think we’d be remiss not to try to think through impacts that directly affect workers’ lower productivity, raise danger for workers, and as a consequence raise food prices.”
Are California workers protected from heat?
California is one of a few states with laws that mandate employers provide water breaks, shade and rest for outdoor workers once temperatures reach certain levels.
The state implemented its outdoor heat standard in 2005, after several farmworkers – three in Kern County and one in Fresno County – died due to heat exposure. After the 2008 death of a pregnant teen working in a Central Valley vineyard drew national outrage, state officials frantically tried to strengthen and enforce the heat protections.
The Washington Center study found occupational heat-related injuries in California declined by about 30 percent since the standards took effect in 2005.
There still are no heat-related federal workplace protections, even for outdoor workers, although the Occupational Health and Safety Administration announced two years ago it was developing heat rules for outdoor and indoor workers.
There’s currently little relief for California’s indoor workers. The state has been considering proposals for heat rules for employees in indoor settings like restaurants or warehouses for nearly seven years, missing a 2019 deadline the Legislature set.
Last summer, a 24-year-old United Parcel Service driver died after collapsing from the heat during deliveries in Pasadena.
The 340,000-strong union representing the UPS workers has been seeking heat rules that would cover its California members. The union reached a “historic” contract agreement with the company July 25 after threatening a strike, securing a deal with higher wages and more heat protections.
Jassy Grewal, a lobbyist for the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council and a member of the state’s heat advisory committee, said workers in high-intensity environments, or those who don’t have a cool place at home, are especially vulnerable without indoor heat rules.
“What type of pressures from employers, like work quotas, contribute to heat-related illness,” Grewal asked during the first committee meeting. “And how does the intensity of work and how physically demanding it is relate to the impact of heat exposure while at work and while not at work?”
Gaps in job protections
Unions and worker advocates have sued the state in the past to enforce heat-related regulations, and they say the state needs to hold employers accountable.
Advocacy groups warn that despite progress, the greatest risk to workers lies with the state’s troubled enforcement record.
Some experts say it’s as simple as better outreach, informing workers about heat risks and their rights.
“It’s all implementation and ensuring that these workers actually get the benefits of these laws,” said Michael Méndez, environmental policy professor at UC Irvine, “and having a culturally and linguistically appropriate messaging on the risk and severity of these heat waves.
“I think for any population it’s confusing to understand how our climate is changing and how much risk they could have. So ensuring that we have trusted messengers and doing it in a culturally and linguistically appropriate way matters.”
“We expect state agencies to be out in full strength across California to make sure employers are being compliant with the state heat rules. Heat is still a deadly hazard.”ANTONIO DE LOERA-BRUST, UFW SPOKESPERSON
The United Farm Workers sued the Cal/OSHA in 2012 to compel the state to enforce heat rules for farmworkers. In 2015 the state settled a suit the union brought on behalf of five farmworkers who alleged CalOSHA was systematically neglecting its duty to enforce the 2005 law.
UFW spokesperson Antonio de Loera-Brust told CalMatters “people died to win” California’s enforcement standards.
“We expect state agencies to be out in full strength across California to make sure employers are being compliant with the state heat rules,” De Loera-Brust said. “Heat is still a deadly hazard.”
A February study on California farmworker health and safety by the UC Merced Community and Labor Center found that only a third of farm laborers could recognize the symptoms of a heat-related illness.
Only half of the roughly 1,500 farmworkers surveyed said their employers always provide shade mandated by California law when it hits 80 degrees, while a quarter said their employers never or rarely provide the required shade.
The study, which surveyed farmworkers in six languages, also found:
- About 22% of farmworkers said their employer “never” monitors for heat illness. A slightly higher percentage in the Imperial Valley, where scorching temperatures are common, said the same.
- 82% of farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley said they have received heat related illness training.
- About 43% of farmworkers statewide, including two-thirds of Central Coast farmworkers, said their employers never had a written heat illness protection plan.
Some farm employers still don’t comply with state rules about providing water, shade and rest, the survey shows.
- 55% of farmworkers across the state said their employers always monitored the temperature on hot days — 76% said it in the Imperial Valley, but 46% did in Napa Valley and Sonoma areas.
- 75% of farmworkers said their employers provide clean drinking water every time.
- Barely half of farmworkers reported their employers always provide a 10-minute cool down rest, while 21% said their employers “never” did.
Alice Berliner, worker health and safety program director at the community and labor center, said it’s clear employers some workers aren’t getting safety information or training in Spanish when they need it.
“We know heat-related deaths are going up,” she said. “If we want to prevent future deaths from happening, we really need to ensure workers are protected at work.”
State officials taking preventive measures, such as conducting heat sweeps ahead of heat waves, has helped, she added.
What will the state committee do?
Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, who authored legislation creating the advisory committee last year, called the panel of 13 a “solid first step.” He said he will work with the Legislature to do more for workers.
“Climate change is accelerating, and extreme heat and heat-related illnesses are on the rise,” the Salinas Democrat said in a statement. “California is committed to protecting workers’ health and quality of life during extreme heat waves.”
Despite near-universal consensus among state officials and advocates that heat reform work is urgent, and despite recent record shattering temperatures, the committee has been given a 2026 deadline to report results to the Legislature.
The committee is set to meet quarterly. The next session is September 19. Members indicated they’ll likely commission a study to guide the committee’s work.
“I have no doubt the work this committee will do will save lives,” said Cal/OSHA chief Jeff Killip at the meeting.
Tips from the National Weather Service about heat waves:
- Slow down. Reduce, eliminate or reschedule strenuous activities until the coolest time of the day. Those particularly vulnerable to heat such as children, infants, older adults (especially those who have preexisting diseases, take certain medications, living alone or with limited mobility), those with chronic medical conditions, and pregnant women should stay in the coolest available place, not necessarily indoors.
- Dress for summer. Wear lightweight, loose fitting, light-colored clothing to reflect heat and sunlight.
- Minimize direct exposure to the sun. Sunburn reduces your body’s ability to dissipate heat.
Eating and Drinking
- Eat light, cool, easy-to-digest foods such as fruit or salads. If you pack food, put it in a cooler or carry an ice pack. Don’t leave it sitting in the sun. Meats and dairy products can spoil quickly in hot weather.
- Drink plenty of water (not very cold), non-alcoholic and decaffeinated fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty. If you are on a fluid-restricted diet or have a problem with fluid retention, consult a physician before increasing consumption of fluids.
- Do not take salt tablets unless specified by a physician.
- Use air conditioners or spend time in air-conditioned locations such as malls and libraries.
- Use portable electric fans to exhaust hot air from rooms or draw in cooler air.
- Do not direct the flow of portable electric fans toward yourself when room temperature is hotter than 90°F. The dry blowing air will dehydrate you faster, endangering your health.
- Take a cool bath or shower.
Check on Others
- Check on older, sick, or frail people who may need help responding to the heat. Each year, dozens of children and untold numbers of pets left in parked vehicles die from hyperthermia. Keep your children, disabled adults, and pets safe during tumultuous heat waves.
- Don’t leave valuable electronic equipment, such as cell phones and GPS units, sitting in hot cars.
- Make sure rooms are well vented if you are using volatile chemicals.
Heat Safety in Vehicles
- Even on mild days in the 70s, studies have shown that the temperature inside a parked vehicle can rapidly rise to a dangerous level for children, pets and even adults. Leaving the windows slightly open does not significantly decrease the heating rate. A dark dashboard or car seat can quickly reach temperatures in the range of 180°F to over 200°F. These objects heat the adjacent air by conduction and convection and also give off long wave radiation, which then heats the air trapped inside a vehicle. Touch a child’s safety seat and safety belt before using it to ensure it’s not too hot before securing a child
- Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the windows down, even for just a minute
- Teach children not to play in, on, or around cars. They could accidentally trap themselves in a hot vehicle.
- Always lock car doors and trunks–even at home–and keep keys out of children’s reach.
- Always make sure children have left the car when you reach your destination. Don’t leave sleeping infants in the car.
- Click here to learn more and follow these tips to ensure childrens’ safety.
Heat stroke and exhaustion symptoms
|Symptoms||What to do|
|Heat Exhaustion||– Heavy sweating|
– Cold, pale, clammy skin
– Fast, weak pulse
– Nausea or vomiting
– Muscle cramps
– Tiredness or weakness
|– Move to a cool place |
– Loosen your clothes
– Put cool, wet clothes on your body or take a cool bath
– Sip water
Get medical help right away if:
– You are throwing up
– Your symptoms get worse
– Your symptoms last longer than one hour
|Heat Stroke||– High body temperature (103℉ or higher) |
– Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
– Fast, strong pulse
|– Call 911 immediately|
– Move person to a cooler place
– Help lower temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath
– Do NOT give the person anything to drink
California’s grand reopening day is almost here, but it comes with a few asterisks.
If all goes as expected and promised, on June 15 our 15-month-long ordeal of public health restrictions, mandates, bans and color-coded tiers to stem the COVID-19 pandemicwill finally come to an end. As Gov. Gavin Newsom said in April and reaffirmed in May, next Tuesday is when “we can start to open up…business as usual.”
But as that much-touted date approaches, the governor’s promise of a sudden milestone is colliding with the loophole-ridden gradualism of California labor law, local control and the imperatives of fighting a diminishing — but not defeated — virus that has killed 62,500 Californians and counting.
Some mixed messages along the way have added to the confusion. So what will — and won’t — actually happen on Tuesday? Many of your questions, answered.
Will I be able to sit inside a bar, work out at a gym or go to the movies?
The average Californian can expect things to look fairly back-to-normal in most of the ways that matter.
Moving “beyond the blueprint,” to use the state’s branding, and instead using federal health guidance for public places means that most businesses can dispense with social distancing requirements, capacity limits and forced closures.
But there’s a difference between “can” and “must.”
Counties will still be free to impose their own public health restrictions if they choose to — but only if they’re stricter than what the state is requiring. So far, no counties have said that they’ll part ways with the state’s rules, though a few, like San Francisco, say they’re still mulling over their options.
Even so, businesses aren’t taking any chances. On Tuesday, more than 35 business groups sent a letter to county governments across the state begging them to stick to the statewide rules.
Though business groups, who don’t relish the idea of getting sued, are hoping for consistent, cheap and easy-to-follow standards, your favorite restaurant, movie theater or hair salon is also free to impose its own public health restrictions.
That means you shouldn’t be surprised if you still spot a few “No Mask, No Service” signs after June 15.
Can I go to a concert?
Depends. Are we talking open mic at the local bar or Beyonce at an arena?
The state has said it will impose additional restrictions on “mega events.” That’s defined as anything that draws more than 5,000 people indoors or 10,000 outside. (Sorry, nameless dude playing a melodica into a loop pedal, you are not a mega event).
According to the most recent state guidance, concerts, conventions and other indoor mega events will only be open to people who can prove that they’ve either been vaccinated (by showing a vaccination card, a photo of the card, or documentation from a doctor) or that they tested negative for the coronavirus in the last 72 hours. That kind of proof won’t necessarily be required at outdoor events such as baseball games, but the state is recommending that stadiums either impose such a rule or require masking.
Once I’m inside the bar, gym or movie theater, can I finally take this mask off?
Yes, if you’re vaccinated.
California’s public health officials confirmed Wednesday that along with relaxed social distancing, the state will also drop its mask mandate on June 15 and instead adopt the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That means vaccinated adults should feel free to go mask-less in most public spaces. There are still exceptions for venues where the potential for many vulnerable people congregating in a confined place is high: hospitals and other health care settings, school classrooms, prisons and jails, public transit and nursing homes.
If you’re unvaccinated, you’ll still be required to wear a mask indoors in most public places, though it’s not entirely clear if or how that will be enforced. On Wednesday, health and human services secretary Mark Ghaly said that businesses can require masks of all customers, implement a vaccination verification system or simply go with the honor system.
“We are not requiring businesses to, for example, have somebody at the door checking for vaccine status as a way to comply with this,” he said.
What about when I’m at work?
For anyone who has a job, doesn’t work from home and spends their work hours with other human beings, this Q&A just got a lot more complicated.
Since last November, the state’s workplace safety regulator has been requiring most employees across the state to mask up and maintain six feet of distance from one another when possible. They’ve also required stores, restaurants and other employers to provide personal protective equipment to their staff, offer testing when necessary and, in some cases, set up pathogen-blocking furnishings such as plexiglass shields.
Those requirements seem to be on the way out, but not on June 15
Wednesday night,the state’s Occupational Safety and Health board agreed to take the new state public health mask guidance into account and vote on new workplace rules on June 17. If affirmed, they wouldn’t go into effect until June 28.
The board unanimously voted to revoke a vote last week to adopt new workplace rules that would let workers go maskless, but only so long as they and all their colleagues are vaccinated. Employers would also be required to provide N95 masks to staff.
That idea did not go over well with the state’s business interests. How, they asked, is an employer supposed to find out which workers are not vaccinated? What if vaccinated employees, chafing at their masks, begin harassing their unvaccinated colleagues? How expensive are all these masks going to be?
“We can’t be the mask police,” said Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association. “This totally contradicts the messaging that came out of the governor’s office, which was June 15, we’re opening up the economy.”
California’s business interests lobbied the governor directly, asking him to do an end run around the state’s workplace safety regulators and issue an executive order to “align” workplace guidelines with guidance from the state public health department and federal CDC. They renewed that request after the Cal/OSHA decision Wednesday night, urging Newsom to provide all employers with “consistency and certainty.”
Newsom declined on Friday to say whether he would act on that request. On Wednesday, Ghaly said the administration was “in no way predisposing or pushing for one outcome over the other” but for now was simply leaving it up to the workplace safety board.
Presumably state agencies will be abiding by the state public health guidelines?
You might think that. And that might very well be the case. But no one seems to know just yet, including the agencies, themselves.
Take the Department of Motor Vehicles. Californians participating in that most pedestrian of pre-pandemic activities — waiting in line at the DMV — may or may not be required to wear a mask, stay six feet apart from one another or have their temperatures checked before entry.
Those public health measures are in place now. Will they be relaxed come June 15?
State agencies are still waiting to find out.
“I’m in the same boat that the general public is in,” said DMV director Steve Gordon, whose agency is in the process of moving license renewals and other common customer service requests online.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office directed a question about state agency opening procedures to the California Department of Human Resources, wherea spokesperson for CalHR did not respond to either emails or voice messages.
Is the state still going to be in a state of emergency?
Does that mean the state isn’t actually going to reopen?
When the governor was asked on Friday whether, come June 15, he would also rescind the state of emergency proclamation that he issued in the early days of the pandemicin March 2020, Newsom — to the surprise of many and dismay of some — said that he would not.
So how can the state possibly reopen for “business as usual” when it’s simultaneously under an emergency?
The answer might be that the definition of “state of emergency” under California law doesn’t necessarily mean “emergency” in the everyday “something is on fire” sense of the word.
While the California Emergency Services Act does give the governor exceptionally broad powers to govern by fiat during a period of crisis, in practice the governor has evoked that power during the pandemic to administer various public health and economic relief programs and to collect federal aid.
“Abruptly terminating the emergency would cancel all that wholesale,” said Brandon Stracener, research fellow at the California Constitution Center at UC Berkeley. “A gradual transition process that involves the Legislature is far better, and permits a rapid response to any unexpected surge in the pandemic.”
With executive orders empowered by the proclamation, Newsom has loosened regulations to allow more people to administer vaccines, banned water shut-offs on homes with delinquent utility bills, given cities the ability to freeze commercial evictions, allowed local governments and courts to conduct public hearings over Zoom and given businesses on state roads the freedom to set up parklets and other street-side services.
The governor is hoping to extend some of the programs long past June 15 — either as long as the effects of the pandemic coursing through the state, or until the Legislature can make it permanent by statute.
On June 2, for example, the governor’s office assured local governments that they would still be allowed to hold meetings remotely. “The Governor recognizes,” cabinet secretary Ana Matosantos wrote in an open letter, “the importance of an orderly return to the ordinary conduct of public meetings of state and local agencies and boards.”
Some local governments are deciding to return somewhat to normal; San Francisco Mayor London Breed presided over four weddings at City Hall to mark its reopening Monday.
Republicans in the Legislature have long bristled at the governor’s unprecedented use of executive power during the pandemic, and are now attacking him leading up to an all-but-certain recall election this fall. On Monday, Assemblymembers Kevin Kiley of Rocklin and James Gallagher of Yuba City and state Sen. Melissa Melendez from Riverside County demanded that the administration explain what justified the continued proclamation of the emergency.
Some emergencies from recent wildfires and past droughts are still active, Newsom’s office notes.State law does give the Legislature the ultimate check on the governor’s emergency powers. All they need to do is pass a resolution declaring the emergency to be over. But they haven’t. And with Democrats enjoying supermajorities in both the Assembly and Senate, they aren’t likely to anytime soon.
This article was originally published by CalMatters.