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John F. Grannis: Hot-button issues for OSHA in the summer

It’s The Law

Posted: July 30, 2009 9:57 p.m.
Updated: July 30, 2009 9:53 p.m.
There are a number of hot topics on the agendas of occupational safety and health agencies as we swing into summer 2009.
Here are just a few:
  • Beating the Heat: With the return of our annual Southern California heat wave, Cal-OSHA intends to conduct inspections of both indoor and outdoor workplaces to protect employees from heat related illnesses. Cal-OSHA inspectors will be looking for violations of involving risk factors for heat illness, defined as working conditions that create the possibility that a serious heat-related medical condition could occur.  Cal-OSHA regulations require that employers follow these preventive steps:
  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
  • Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention.
  • Allow employees to become gradually acclimatized to working in the heat.
  • Provide enough drinking water so that each employee can drink at least one quart of water per hour, and encourage employees to do so.
  • Provide access to shade during breaks and for at least five minutes of rest when an employee is manifesting possible signs or symptoms of heat-related illness.
  • Develop an appropriate emergency plan for dealing with heat related illnesses, should they occur.
Triple-digit temperatures can easily become five-digit fines and penalties if a Cal-OSHA inspector determines that an employer has failed to adequately protect its employees from the effects of either indoor or outdoor heat- related illnesses. It is incumbent on each employer to understand and comply with Cal-OSHA regulations regarding the preventing of heat related illnesses.
  • Ergonomic Injuries: Ergonomics is an applied science that seeks to match the design of devices, equipment and furniture with the needs and capabilities of the workers using them. A strict federal OSHA ergonomic standard was overturned by the Bush administration, and cannot be immediately revisited under the Obama administration. However, Obama administration OSHA inspectors may still issue general safety citations for ergonomic hazards if they can show that an employer knew of a dangerous condition and failed to take reasonable steps to eliminate the condition.

In addition, this is an area where Cal-OSHA inspectors remain vigilant, so that relaxation of the federal standard may have little effect on enforcement of state ergonomic regulations.

Chemical plants targeted: Several chemical plant explosions and fires have increased OSHA’s determination to increase the number of inspections at such plants. OSHA has established a goal of inspecting all chemical plants by 2015, and is hiring more inspectors to do so. The agency’s goal is to make sure employers are complying with the workplace safety rules that are intended to prevent explosions and fires.

One can easily see that these “hot topics” will affect most employers in one way or another. The key for employers, as with any regulatory matter, is preparation.  Knowing the regulatory requirements and establishing a compliance program in advance of any inspection is the best way to avoid, or at least mitigate, any citations from an OSHA or Cal-OSHA inspector.

John F. Grannis is a partner with Poole & Shaffery, LLP, a full service business, corporate and employment law firm.  He can be reached at (661) 290-2991. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “It’s The Law” appears Fridays and rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association.  Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.



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