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
As the clock struck midnight on Feb. 10, 14 people scattered around California collectively exhaled in relief.
The 14 are members of the state’s independent citizens redistricting commission who drew 120 new districts for the Legislature, 52 for Congress and four for the state Board of Equalization that voters will use in this year’s election. The commissioners struggled at times to reach consensus, and their mapping was critiqued nearly every step of the way by some experts, advocates, elected officials and the public.
But after all the criticism, the commission approved the maps unanimously in late December, and Feb. 10 — the 45-day deadline for anyone to go to court to block the maps — came and went.
No one sued.
There’s still one more state hurdle to clear: critics have until March 27 to challenge the maps via a referendum — asking voters to reject them — before the new districts officially become effective. But there’s no sign any such costly effort is underway. (The maps could also be challenged in federal court as violating the U.S. constitution or the Voting Rights Act.)
“The absence of a state lawsuit challenging these maps is a testament to the effectiveness of California’s open, publicly accessible redistricting process and the design of its independent redistricting commission,” current commission Chairperson Russell Yee said in a statement.
“We worked hard to apply the constitutional redistricting criteria and consider testimony from throughout the state, especially from minority communities,” said Yee, a Republican professor and former pastor from Oakland. “While the maps do not please everyone, we believe they are fair and equitable. We would have confidently defended these maps in court, but are thankful we now won’t need to.”
The commission did face litigation earlier: An emergency petition filed on Nov. 30 on behalf of some Republican voters alleged that the commission held secret meetings with some interest groups, complained that an analysis of racially polarized voting wasn’t made public and challenged the selection of its legal counsel because the firm had previously worked for Democrats.
That emergency petition was denied by the California Supreme Court on Dec. 15.
Christian Grose, professor of political science and public policy at the University of Southern California, said that while the failure of prior lawsuits might explain the lack of litigation, so does how the commission did business. “A unanimous vote is a signal that something was done right,” he said.
Josue Franco, an assistant professor of political science at Cuyamaca College in San Diego, said the amount of public comment (more than 36,000 entries) as well as the failure of the petition, likely warded off more lawsuits.
“Any political process is a valve, with pressure being applied. Some have limited valves to open, so no pressure is released. So it builds up and builds up and builds up and explodes in some kind of failure of the process or judicial litigation,” he said. “ When you have processes that are public — allowing people to comment — they’re venting.”
“I think the lesson learned for any future commission is: If you continue to be as open and transparent and accessible as possible, you’ll continue to reduce the likelihood of any significant litigation,” Franco added.
That’s a bonus for taxpayers: Any of the $4.3 million set aside for litigation that isn’t used goes back into the state’s general fund.
The lack of lawsuits is somewhat surprising. After the first time California redistricting was done by an independent commission, in 2011, two lawsuits challenged the final maps, and another questioned the commission’s makeup.
And new election districts in other states are being taken to court. On Feb. 7, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated a congressional map that a lower federal court ruled would disenfranchise Black voters. In December, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Texas, alleging that the maps drawn by a Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP Gov. Greg Abbott disenfranchise Latino voters. In North Carolina, the state Supreme Court threw out new congressional and legislative districts that the justices said were too partisan and ordered the Republican-majority Legislature to draw new ones by Feb. 18.
Even in other states where the maps were also drawn by independent commissions, there are lawsuits. In Michigan, state lawmakers say that the new congressional districts would dilute the voting power of minority communities. In Ohio, Black voters went to federal court seeking to block legislative maps.
Just before approving California’s maps and delivering them to the secretary of state on Dec. 27, commissioners noted the exceptional challenges they faced during their 18 months of work, including the pandemic and the delay of Census data that compressed their timeline to have new districts in time for the June primary.
Meeting deadlines and avoiding lawsuits aren’t the only measures of success. Other assessments could shape what statewide and local California redistricting looks like after the 2030 Census and beyond.
Grading the new lines
Ballot measures passed in 2008 and 2010 set the minimum criteria for fair maps: equal population, compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act and compactness of districts, among others.
But beyond that, some look at how well the new districts reflect California’s diverse population — with no race or ethnic group making up a majority.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the number of majority Latino districts increased “significantly,” with six more for U.S. House, three more for state Senate and an additional five for state Assembly – nearly matching the share of the Latino voting-eligible population at 30%.
There was less change for other ethnic groups. There are two Asian-majority state Assembly districts, up from one, but no state Senate or congressional districts. There are no majority Black districts.
Another measure of fair representation: “influence” districts, where a group makes up at least 30% of voters. While the number of Latino “influence” districts declined, there are two Black influence congressional districts and two legislative districts and six Asian influence congressional districts and 10 legislative ones.
While community groups were vocal during the process, some said the final maps attempted to address most, if not all, their concerns.
The true test of representation will be the results of elections this year and in subsequent cycles. A report by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute showed that the 2011 maps largely succeeded in helping to add elected officials of color in California between 2012 and 2020.
And while the commission is not permitted to consider the new districts’ impact on incumbents or political parties, another assessment is how politically competitive they become.
Party control, based on voter registration, flipped in three congressional, four Senate districts and four Assembly districts.
Still, Democrats will likely remain dominant based on the new maps, favored to win 41 congressional seats, 31 state Senate seats and 62 Assembly seats, according to the PPIC analysis. There were also 21 members of Congress, 13 state senators and 20 Assembly members put into the same districts as other incumbents.
Adding to the turnover and possibly changing the partisan balance, so far 21 Assembly members and state senators have resigned or have announced they’re not seeking reelection this year. Another seven senators are barred from running again by term limits.
“In the 2001 cycle, there was essentially a gentleman’s agreement that enabled everyone to run for reelection and stay in power,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause, which pushed for the independent redistricting commission. “This was a process that was exactly the opposite. The commission was literally moving lines and making massively important decisions on a livestream. They’re going to stumble, and thousands of people are going to watch it. But I don’t think I would trade that for a cleaner alternative.”
Lessons from 2010, and for 2030
While this California redistricting was heavily scrutinized, the 2010 commission dealt with its own challenges, including tight timelines and budget restraints. But they also had the advantage of being the first independent commissioners.
So another measure of the current commission’s success might be how well it learned lessons from the previous group. Some prior commissioners who followed the 2021 process say the current commission was able to do more public outreach and took advantage of more advanced technology.
But some of the same problems remained: time management, a lack of clear guidance on how to assess competing communities of interest and a struggle to be consistent in making decisions.
There were also continued attempts by partisans to sway the commission — something researchers had warned after the 2011 California redistricting would only grow stronger. “Political forces that were baffled, angered, quietly involved, or generally thrown on the defensive will be much better prepared to exercise influence,” said a 2013 report commissioned by the League of Women Voters of California.
Former commissioner Jodie Filkins Webber said she was flabbergasted seeing the number of organizations that mobilized for this redistricting. Webber, a Republican, and Democratic commissioner Cynthia Dai wrote a commentary last year warning that too many closed sessions, while allowed, would erode the public’s trust in the process. The current commission routinely held private sessions during its marathon meetings.
“All of us who were commissioners are very protective of the institution and of an open process, which is why a lot of us were critical of the commission,” said Angelo Ancheta, the final chairperson of the 2010 commission.
Current commissioner J. Ray Kennedy, a Democrat from San Bernardino County who works as an international elections consultant, said that while the commission did more outreach, there is still room for more public education — for instance, explaining why the commission started from scratch, not from existing districts.
“I understood a lot of people were going to resist any redistricting, but I was still a little surprised at how many people said, ‘Don’t do anything to my district,’” Kennedy said in an interview. “I think that message did not get out as much, or it didn’t stick — that districts have to change. And so in the future, that would be a point of focus: How to help all Californians understand that districts have to change.”
Whether or not to start from a blank slate — as well as other administrative decisions — is up to each California redistricting commission. Said former commissioner Jeanne Raya: “I think it’s important that each commission not be tethered to the one that came before.”
And while, thanks to a push from the 2010 commission, the 2020 commission was given more time, its decision to count state prison inmates in drawing districts, combined with the Census delay, resulted in a time crunch.
“We need to look at the timeline in the future to make sure that there is enough time for all of these things to happen,” Kennedy said.
That and other lessons will be compiled into a report to the next commission, along with legislative recommendations. The commission is scheduled to meet Feb. 18 and 23 to discuss lessons learned and other topics.
The current commissioners, like their predecessors, may also travel throughout California and to other states to share the impact an independent commission can have.
Members of both citizen commissions agree that other institutions should learn from having a bipartisan group work together and reach consensus, especially in these politically polarized times, when 63% of California’s likely voters are pessimistic that Americans with different political views can still work out their differences.
“We built and exercised respect for each other and came up with something that all 14 of us believe isn’t perfect, but will provide good representation for California going forward,” Kennedy said. “I think that’s the story that really needs more focus in this time of hyperpartisanship…that we can put together kind of a random group of citizens to do civic work on behalf of the entire community and get it done.”