SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Provisions in a California bill that would have given extra protections to outdoor workers when temperatures exceed 105 degrees were removed in the final round of revisions before.
Two weeks later, the state experienced record temperatures prompting Cal/OSHA to conduct targeted inspections of employers in construction, agriculture and other outdoor industries.
The bill, AB 2243, is currently sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature or a veto.
In its original form, the bill would have prompted changes to state labor regulations requiring employers to increase monitoring of employees for symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and to provide paid breaks every hour, cooling features such as misters, and “readily and immediately available cool water.”
The version of the bill eventually passed by the legislature makes no mention of new protections for when temperatures reach 105 degrees. Instead, the bill says the labor standards board should consider making changes to standards around workers’ “acclimatization to higher temperatures” but makes no specific suggestions.
The bill as passed by the legislature also requires employers to provide workers with copies of the company’s Heat Illness Prevention Plan upon hire and on an annual basis and it would lower the AQI limit at which respiratory protective equipment becomes mandatory for farm workers to 301. The bill had originally proposed that the limit be set at an AQI of 200.
“With increasingly longer, hotter, and more deadly heat waves, particularly in the region of the Coachella and Imperial Valley, we must do more to protect workers and update our outdoor worker protection standards to align with our new reality,” wrote Asm. Eduardo Garcia in comments to the legislature when the bill was submitted back in February. “Temperatures in my constituency rise to 120 degrees and our current standards for worker protections only account for temperatures above 95.”
“Additionally, air quality standards need to be updated to account for the unhealthy air above 200 AQI, especially since extreme heat events combined with unhealthy air have tremendous impacts on outdoor workers,” Garcia said.
A coalition of employer associations, including the Associated General Contractors, submitted comments to the legislature opposing the bill.
“AB 2243 is an end-run around Cal/OSHA’s regulatory process that attempts to re-write two of Cal/OSHA’s most recent regulations in ways which will not improve safety and Cal/OSHA specifically chose to reject in its drafting of these regulations,” read the coalition’s comments. “In addition, AB 2243’s push to consider new standards is similarly wasteful – and, if the proponents wish to push those topics, they should be handled via the normal petition process at Cal/OSHA.”
Despite California’s already increased protections for workers over federal requirements, the state reported at least 15 heat-related deaths of workers in the last six years.