Employee Recovery Periods in High Temperatures Outdoors

Summer is upon us, the days are longer, the sun shines longer and its rays are more direct.   California regulations address worker safety in conditions of excess heat.  Heat exhaustion is a serious problem that can lead to death.  As a means of preventing heat illness, California provides specific protections through Labor Code section 226.7, and 8 CCR section 3395.

These statutes provide workers “recovery periods.” These periods are breaks to help ensure workers stay safe in the heat.  The standards apply to all outdoor places of employment.  Furthermore, it is a violation of the Labor Code to discharge or discriminate against employees for exercising their rights under any provision of occupational safety and health protection.

An Overview of Heat Illness

California defines “Heat Illness” as: “a serious medical condition resulting from the body’s inability to cope with a particular heat load, and includes heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat syncope and heat stroke.”   The DIR warns that prolonged heat exposure could result in dehydration, muscle cramping, weakness, fatigue, confusion, damage to the brain, muscles and vital organs, and even death.  DIR Heat Illness Prevention.

8 CCR Section 3395 identifies several environmental risk factors for heat illness including: air temperature, relative humidity, heat sources such as the sun or ground, air movement, workload severity and duration, protective clothing and the employees’ personal protective equipment or  “PPE.” There are complicating personal risk factors of age, acclimatization, health, water consumption, alcohol or caffeine consumption, and prescription medications.

What is a “Recovery Period?”

California Labor Code section 226.7 defines “recovery period” as a cool-down period afforded to an employee to prevent heat illness.  CCR section 3395 defines what is required from an employer during a recovery period.  Whenever an employee feels the need to protect themselves from overheating, they must be “allowed and encouraged” to take recovery periods in the shade for not less than five minutes.   During recovery periods the employee must be monitored for symptoms of heat illness; encouraged to remain in the shade; and cannot be ordered back to work until all signs and symptoms of heat illness have abated.

The employer cannot require an employee to work during a recovery period.  Recovery periods must not be deducted from wages and must be counted as time worked.  If an employer fails to provide a recovery period, the employer shall pay one additional hour of premium pay for each workday the recovery period is not provided.

Employers Must Provide Safe Working Conditions to Prevent Heat Exhaustion 

Employers must provide the employee with access to shade, at least one quart of potable water per hour worked, and appropriate first aid or emergency response. The employer must provide specific training to all employees whose work may result in exposure to the risk of heat illness.  The employer must also implement and maintain an effective Heat Illness Prevention Plan, and establish effective emergency response procedures.  Additionally, greater protections are required for employees in specific fields when temperatures meet or exceed 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  These fields include agriculture, construction, landscaping, and oil and gas extraction.

A Few Definitions

“Heat wave” is defined as “any day in which the predicted high temperature for the day will be at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit and at least ten degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average high daily temperature in the preceding five days.”  Employees must be closely observed for “Acclimatization” during heat waves, or when the employee is newly assigned to a high heat area.  Acclimatization peaks in most people within four to fourteen days of regular work for at least two hours per day in excess temperatures.

Worker Safety – One More Way to Be Safe:  Know Your Rights.

Heat illness is a serious issue with serious consequences. If you work outdoors, these regulations protect you from potential heat illness.  Take a recovery period; get into the shade, drink plenty of water, and have someone monitor you for heat illness. Recovery periods are here to protect workers from heat illness, but it is up to the employee to make sure they are taking breaks when needed.  And when you pack your lunch, include a copy of this article for your boss.