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Heat Illness Prevention

Important Information about Heat Illness
The well-being of our workforce is a priority for all California farmers. Heat illness is a health and safety issue that farmers and ranchers have been concerned about for many years. Farmers recognize the potential risks of heat exposure, just as employers do in construction, manufacturing and other industries where heat is an issue. We take the necessary steps to protect our employees, not only from heat illness but from other potential health and safety hazards as well.

Here are some basic tips for heat illness prevention:

  • Drink small amounts of water frequently;
  • Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink;
  • Take advantage of shade-and-rest breaks;
  • Start work earlier in the day, to avoid the afternoon heat;
  • Know how to recognize the symptoms of heat illness, such as poor concentration, cramping, fatigue, blurry vision, headache, dizziness, nausea, etc.;
  • If you notice heat illness symptoms in yourself or a co-worker, have the victim stop working, find shade, loosen clothing, get fluids, and fan the body with any item available;
  • Serious fluid loss can lead to heat stroke, which is an emergency - if this happens, seek medical help right away;

Once the temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit, high-heat procedures should be implemented. CalOSHA will call for these procedures to be in writing as they relate to the high-heat standard. Procedures may include:

  • Providing more frequent reminders to utilize water and shade;
  • Observing employees for signs and symptoms of heat illness;
  • Checking on employees more frequently, particularly if they are working out of sight. This can be accomplished visually, audibly, or through electronic communication, depending on the type of work being done;
  • Changing the work schedule so that employees are not working during the hottest times of the day;
  • Utilizing a buddy system, where employees work in pairs and monitor each other for early signs of heat illness;
  • Making sure that water and shade are always kept as close as practicable to employees; and
  • More closely observing new employees until they are acclimated.

Heat Illness Prevention Enforcement Q&A [PDF]
Title 8, Section 3395, California Code of Regulation Heat-Illness Prevention in Outdoor Places of Employment

Heat Stress Card - Pocket size (available in English and Spanish)

Heat Illness Resources

Reminder: Farmers need to comply with heat illness prevention program


With the start of summer, it’s important farmers and ranchers re-visit their heat illness prevention program. The California Occupational Health and Safety Administration (Cal-OSHA) requires employers provide employees with portable drinking water, adequate shade and to have written procedures in place.

The first responsibility of an employer is to know what to look for in heat stress. First, look for light symptoms, such as headaches, loss of balance or unusual fatigue. Symptoms often can become more severe, and include muscle cramps, weakness, unusual behavior, nausea or vomiting, rapid pulse, excessive sweating or hot dry skin, seizures, and fainting or loss of consciousness. 

Almost 50 percent of reported heat illnesses will occur on the employees’ first day on the job, and almost 80 percent of the cases will occur within four days on the job. Employers must be aware that first-day employees are less likely to take breaks to drink water or cool off because they want to make a good first impression. Physically, they also are not acclimated to the heat, and often push themselves beyond their physical limits.

A large portion of the cases occur during heat waves. Employers are encouraged to adjust their work schedules during these sudden heat waves to minimize their employees’ exposure to heat. This could mean shorter days, starting earlier and finishing earlier, and possibly holding off more strenuous tasks until the weather has cooled.

As an employer, in the event Cal-OSHA comes onto the site to provide an audit, make sure the employees are educated so they can answer questions. Cal-OSHA enforcement will ask questions, such as: “How can you tell when someone is suffering from heat stress? What do you do if someone is suffering from heat stress?”

Other factors besides drinking water and lack of shade have been known to contribute to heat illness include humidity, excessive clothing, alcohol abuse, dehydration, strenuous workloads and lack of acclimatization (employees often need time to adjust to longer exposure to heat).

Portable Drinking Water

Regulations call for portable drinking water to be available to farm worker employees at all times. Cal-OSHA recommends that employers provide one quart per hour, per employee, for an entire eight-hour day. However, if an employer has a large number of employees, it is okay not to meet the specific one-quart recommendations so long as the employer has a sufficient replenishing process (always water available).

Employers are encouraged to constantly remind employees to drink small quantities of water throughout the day, as oppose to just a few consumptions of large quantities of water over a long period of time. The water must be sufficiently cool and of good quality drinking water (use your judgment).

Growers must be especially careful as to the quality of the drinking water. Due to past allegations of water being supplied from non-portable sources, OSHA will put on a large emphasis on testing the drinking water if there is an incident or allegation questioning the quality of the drinking water.

Employers are encouraged to find creative ways to keep employees replenished, such as portable water bottles and camo packs. Employers also must be cautious with Gatorade, because it has a high sugar content and lots of carbohydrates. In many cases, employees may become thirstier or they will refrain from drinking water because employees enjoy the taste of Gatorade over drinking water. The same can be said for caffeinated beverages.

Employers also need to be concerned about dehydration due to alcohol use, which has been a substantial factor in heat illness cases. Employees also should eat smaller quantities of food, because the more food an employee eats, the more water it takes to digest that food.

Remember, farmers must use their judgment when considering what is reasonable under the circumstances.

Providing Adequate Access Shade

Employees must have access to an area with shade that is either open to the air or provided with ventilation or cooling for a period of no less than five minutes. This is referred to as the Preventative Recovery Period. This will be necessary if an employee is starting to show signs of heat illness or the employee needs a rest break to recover from the heat.

Two factors can help determine if the shade is adequate: 1) the employee is not casting a shadow; and 2) the employee can move around freely and comfortably within the shaded area. Growers are encouraged to use their best judgment in complying with the rule. However, it is important employers use reasonable care when their employees decide to rest under large equipment, including trailers and larger tractors. Serious injuries and fatalities have occurred as result of equipment being started and transported with the employee directly underneath them.

Again, growers are asked to exercise their best judgment in terms of what will be adequate for shade. For example, use of a car for shade is inadequate.

A car technically does not cast a shadow, but because of the greenhouse effect, it can often be much more detrimental to the employee than standing outside in the heat.

Another example is determining how far the shade is from the employees. If the shade is a long distance from the worksite, the employee may have to exert a large amount of energy and heat walking to and from the shade. Employers are urged to provide some sort of portable shade mechanism close to where employees are working.

Written Procedures Required

Three types of procedures must be available in written form: 1) procedures for complying with regulations; 2) procedures to follow when heat illness is reported; and 3) procedure and methods to ensure clear and concise directions to emergency medical responders to locate the worksite.

These forms must be made available to the employee. In the event Cal-OSHA comes out to perform an audit, make sure the supervisor can show Cal-OSHA enforcement where these forms can be located. It is important to show documentation that all employees have been provided with adequate training.

In the written procedures, employers should include everything they are doing as a preventative measure, even if it is not required by Cal-OSHA. When Cal-OSHA comes to the site to perform an audit, they will treat each operation on a case-by-case basis, and additional procedures on training will provide more protection to the employer.

Other Preventative Measures

Consider having the employees work in pairs during severe temperatures. Employees can spot each other when someone starts to display symptoms of heat illness.         

Designate a person to periodically check on the employees. This is usually the supervisor, but it is important to periodically ask the employees to ensure they are feeling okay and they are drinking enough water. It’s also important to track their whereabouts throughout the entire day.

Employees who are trained to recognize symptoms are more likely to comply with the regulations, and they are more likely to recognize the symptoms and prevent serious injury or a fatality.

Don’t forget about indoor places of employment

Cal-OSHA for the first time will place a much bigger emphasis on indoor employment areas, such as milk barns, warehouses and non air-conditioned offices or rooms.

They will be applying the same law that is used with outdoor places of employment, and apply them to these areas. Again, be prepared to answer questions regarding indoor areas of employment.

By: John Migliazzo, Ag Today, June 08