Cal/OSHA issued a press release on August 1, 2017 reminding employers to observe outdoor workers for signs and symptoms of heat illness, as the National Weather Service is predicting high temperatures for the Central Valley this week. The press release is available here. Cal/OSHA emphasized that the symptoms to look out for include headache, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, cramps, exhaustion, and fainting, and stated that drinking enough water is one of the “most effective heat illness prevention techniques.” Cal/OSHA encourages all workers to drink at least one quart of water every hour.

On-site safety lapses not only lead to devastating employee injuries, but will also likely result in the company being subjected to an OSHA investigation and monetary penalties.  Tyson Foods recently found this out when OSHA slapped them with 15 workplace safety violations and fines totaling $263,498 on August 16, 2016.  The violations and resulting fines were the result of an investigation triggered by a single incident at a Tyson processing plant. A Tyson employee, who was deboning chicken, got his finger stuck in an unguarded conveyer belt when he tried to dislodge chicken parts that were jammed in the belt.  The accident resulted in the employee’s finger being amputated. 

Because the federal government was not already taking enough money from American companies, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will begin imposing higher penalties for violations starting August 1, 2016. The maximum penalties for repeated or willful violations could increase from $70,000 to over $125,000 and the penalties for serious violations will increase from $7,000 to over $12,500. Unbelievably, these penalties are only the best estimate currently available on the likely increase of penalties and the actual increase even more than indicated once they are implemented in August of 2016. Though OSHA has the discretion to not utilize the full increase, it is likely that OSHA will start assessing penalties at the new much higher rates.

Oakland—Cal/OSHA is urging all employers throughout the entire state to protect their outdoor workers from heat illness. The National Weather Service has issued high heat and excessive heat warnings for portions of Northern and Southern California. The increasing high pressure will result in very dry conditions with temperatures climbing to over 100 degrees inland.

“When temperatures rise to high, potentially dangerous levels, it’s imperative that outdoor workers are protected from heat illness,” said Christine Baker, Director of the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). The Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, is a division of DIR.

Heat advisories and excessive heat warnings are issued by the National Weather Service when weather conditions exist that can cause heat illness, which can be life threatening. California’s heat regulation requires all employers with outdoor workers to protect outdoor workers by taking these basic steps:

•    Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention.

•    Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least 1 quart, or four 8-ounce glasses, of water 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 5 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.

“Workers can die when temperatures are elevated,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “Employers are responsible for ensuring their outdoor workers have enough shade, water, and rest to prevent heat illness. DIR and Cal/OSHA have resources available to help employers comply with the requirements.”

Employers now need to seriously consider whether to include indoor heat hazards in their Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (“IIPP”).

It is well known that employers in California must have an IIPP to comply with occupational safety and health standards. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA (“Cal/OSHA”) has particular standards that employers must meet for specific hazards, including standards for outdoor heat hazards. However, in October 2015, the California Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (“Appeals Board”) upheld citations made by Cal/OSHA against employers for failing to adequately address indoor heat hazards.

Employers sometimes face liability for their employees’ automobile accidents. Under most circumstances the “going and coming” rule shields employers from liability when their employees negligently cause injury to others when they are in transit to or from their place of employment. In essence, courts have generally held that employers are not liable for commuting accidents because commutes are for the benefit of the employee, not the employer. A recent California case, Majid Moradi v. Marsh USA, greatly expands an exception to this safe haven and will increase employer liability for employees’ “off the clock” activities.

In 2010 a Marsh USA Inc. sales employee collided with a motorcycle on her way home from work. The employee decided on the way home to stop for frozen yogurt and take a yoga class. The employee collided with the motorcycle as she made a left turn in to the yogurt shop’s parking lot. The motorcyclist sued both the employee and her employer, Marsh Inc., an insurance broker.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Marsh finding there were no triable issues of fact: the employer could not be liable for its employee’s off-the-clock accident based on the “going and coming” rule, according to the trial court.

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