Cal/OSHA Wins First Ever Decision in Case Protecting Workers from Indoor Heat

The California Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board has ruled in favor of Cal/OSHA’s 2012 citations against two employers because their Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (IIPP) failed to effectively address the hazard of indoor heat.

“This is the first case of indoor heat considered by the Appeals Board. In this case, the ruling affirms that California’s IIPP standard can be used to address hazards that the standard does not specifically identify, including indoor heat,” said Christine Baker, Director of the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). Cal/OSHA, officially known as the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, is a division of DIR.

The IIPP is a basic written program that every employer must develop to comply with occupational safety and health standards and effectively train employees in recognizing hazards.

“California is the only state with an outdoor Heat Illness Prevention standard,” said Juliann Sum, Chief of Cal/OSHA. “Now all workers, including those who work indoors like warehouse workers, are protected from the hazard of heat.”

The case stemmed from the January 2012 serious citations Cal/OSHA issued to Tri-State Staffing (TSI), a temporary staffing agency, and warehouse operator National Distribution Center (NDC) for the heat illness suffered by an employee in August 2011. A serious violation is cited when there is a realistic possibility that death or serious harm could result from the actual hazardous condition.

It was during this time that 49-year-old Domingo Blancas, a TSI employee hired to work in an NDC-operated warehouse, suffered heat illness while working inside a metal freight container with a temperature over 100 degrees. He reported his illness to his temp agency supervisor, who arranged for him to be transported to a local clinic by another employee who had also reported heat illness that day. The doctor at the clinic questioned if Blancas might be suffering from dehydration and referred him to the Emergency Room, but Blancas did not go to the ER and the next day he was hospitalized for three days due to heat stroke.

Both TSI and NDC were penalized $18,000 for failing to implement an effective IIPP. Both companies appealed the citations to an administrative law judge (ALJ). In March 2015. the ALJ issued its decision in favor of TSI and NDC, dismissing their citations. Cal/OSHA appealed that decision to the Appeals Board, stating the ALJ should have affirmed the citations because the employers had failed to effectively correct the hazard of indoor heat exposure, and had not trained employees on the hazard of indoor heat exposure and heat illness. The three-panel board agreed with Cal/OSHA and overturned the ALJ’s decision.

This unprecedented decision also reinforces the fact that all employers have a responsibility for ensuring compliance with all Cal/OSHA standards, not just the employer in charge of the worksite, according to the agency.

On-the-job heat exposure is a risk during operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, or strenuous physical activities. Affected workplaces may include foundries, brick-firing and ceramic plants, glass products facilities, rubber products plants, electric utilities, commercial kitchens, laundries, chemical plants, and smelters.

OSHA emphasizes that while thousands of workers become sick each year from occupational heat exposure, the illnesses and deaths that can result are preventable.

All in One Poster Company designed the California Heat Illness Prevention for Indoor Work Environments to address this problem. Our poster contains steps to prevent heat illness, types of heat illnesses and treatments, and steps that both employees and employers can take to address this issue and create a plan of action.

New York Enacts Several Civil Rights Measures Affecting the Workplace

Changes Take Effect January 19, 2016

New York has enacted a series of changes to its workplace nondiscrimination laws. The changes take effect on January 19, 2016. A summary of the key changes is presented below:

  • Expanded Coverage for Sexual Harassment Actions. A new lawprovides that the state nondiscrimination law’s prohibitions againstsexual harassment apply to all employers—regardless of size. (Prior to January 19, 2016, the provisions regarding sexual harassment are applicable to employers with 4 or more employees.)
  • Pay Equity and Sharing of Wage Information. An amended lawprovides that (among other things) an employer cannot prohibit an employee from inquiring about, discussing, or disclosing his or her wages or the wages of another employee. However, an employer may—in a written policy provided to all employees—establish reasonable workplace and workday limitations on the time, place, and manner for such inquiries, discussions, or disclosures.
  • Discrimination Based on Family Status Prohibited. An amended law (applicable to employers with 4 or more employees) prohibits discrimination in employment based on familial status.
  • Clarification Regarding Pregnancy-Related Conditions. A new measure clarifies that employers with 4 or more employees are generally prohibited from refusing to provide reasonable accommodations to the known disabilities—or pregnancy-related conditions—of an employee/applicant in connection with a job or occupation sought or held. Additionally, pregnancy-related conditions must be treated as temporary disabilities under the law.

The governor’s office has issued a press release regarding the new legislation. Additional information regarding New York workplace nondiscrimination law is available from the New York State Division of Human Rights.

To review other state laws specific to New York, visit the State Lawssection, click on New York, and choose your topic of interest from the left-hand navigation menu.