Calif. Assembly Considers Bill to Reduce Employee Heat Exposure

An incident at a Rite Aid distribution center in Lancaster, Calif., is partly behind a bill before the California legislature that would amend Section 142.8 of the Labor Code and require the State Occupational Safety and Health Board to develop a standard to protect workers from being exposed to excessive heat indoors. California Assembly Bill 1045 calls for language to be added to the labor code on or before July 1, 2008 that would call for hazard identification, workplace monitoring, hazard prevention, preventive rest and relief periods, access to drinking water, first aid and training in heat illness detection and prevention for supervisors and employees.

According to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, a worker death at its Lancaster distribution center made Rite Aid part of the discussion of the California bill. The union reports that the facility lacks air conditioning in areas where up to 600 workers pick and pack products every day and where temperatures can top 100 F. In June 2006, a worker collapsed and was pronounced dead an hour later at the Antelope Valley Hospital. Though the coroner's office determined the death was not heat related, a company spokesperson acknowledged that while the death had been caused by "underlying health conditions," heat had certainly exacerbated those problems.

The background statement attached to the bill notes that from January 1, 2006 to November 28, 2006, 37 heat-related serious accident reports were filed with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Of those, 14 were fatalities. The statement acknowledges that many of those cases are still under investigation and it is not clear whether they were related to indoor working conditions.

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