Amendment would require lower trigger temperatures

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board is making gradual progress on crafting amendments to its heat-safety rule, taking comments at its Oct 15. meeting in Oakland.

In agriculture, both employer and worker advocates say the amendments are workable save for a handful of points, mostly involving temperature triggers.

The amendments would require that farm employers provide shade when temperatures reach 85 degrees Fahrenheit. At 95 degrees, employers would be required to take extra precautions -- watching for signs of illness and reminding employees to drink water.

Anne Katten, a worker-safety specialist with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, says the proposal's trigger for requiring shade structures should be lowered to 75 degrees. That's because research has shown that 75 in the sun can be as hot as 90 in the shade, she said.

For similar reasons, the proposal's high-temperature trigger of 95 degrees should be lowered to 85, Katten said.

"We think there are some things that are good in the proposal, and some things that don't go far enough," she said.

Manuel Cunha Jr., president of the Nisei Farmers League, said requiring shade at 75 degrees would be problematic for farm employers in the San Joaquin Valley. That's because 75-degree days occur in spring and fall, when the valley sees winds and quick-changing temperatures.

It would therefore create confusion among farmers about when the shade must be up, and difficulty maintaining structures in the wind, Cunha said -- during a time of the year that is unlikely to bring enough heat to cause illness.

"What you don't want to do is cry wolf at too low a temperature," Cunha said.

California's Occupational and Safety and Health Standards Board twice declined to approve emergency amendments earlier this year, with some members saying they would prefer the normal rule-making process, which allows more public input.

Now the board is considering the same changes, with some alterations made during the spring and summer, through the longer process.

A full year is allowed for completion, starting in September. But the agency and board want the new rule in place before temperatures begin rising next year, said Dean Fryer, spokesman for the Department of Industrial Relations.

The amendment would also require employers to provide "fresh, pure, suitably cool" drinking water. Discussion has further addressed how such language might be enforced.

The board may consider the amendments again at its next monthly meeting, scheduled for Nov. 19. Each meeting is preceded by a 15-day period for submitting written comments.

Staff writer Wes Sander is based in Sacramento. E-mail: wsander@capitalpress.com.

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Information: www.dir.ca.gov/oshsb

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