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California Board Approves Long-Awaited Heat Protections for Most Indoor Workers

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New guidelines mandate that most employers maintain workplace temperatures below 87 degrees when feasible. If not possible, employers must reduce heat exposure with protective gear or shift changes. These regulations will take effect after review by the Office of Administrative Law. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

California regulators approved new protections from dangerous heat for millions of workers in indoor places of employment, capping a contentious rulemaking process that dragged on for years.

The unanimous vote on Thursday by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board comes as the state faces what is forecast to be a hotter-than-average summer. With heat hazards for workers in California and beyond expected to intensify due to climate change, workplace safety advocates said the protections were critically urgent.

Under the new indoor heat regulations, which will take effect after review by the Office of Administrative Law, most employers must keep workplace temperatures below 87 degrees when feasible. If it’s not feasible, workers’ heat exposure should be reduced by using protective equipment or changing employees’ shifts.


California has required employers of outdoor workers to take heat-illness prevention steps for nearly two decades. But a standard that applied to warehouses, restaurants and other indoor workplaces, which should have been proposed by 2019 under a 2016 law, was delayed for years.

Excessive heat indoors can be deadly for workers. At least seven indoor workers died in California between 2010 and 2017 from causes related to heat, which can lead to strokes as well as fainting, nausea, cramps and other symptoms.

State prisons, employees teleworking at a place of their choice, and emergency operations directly involved in the protection of life and property will not be covered by the new rules.

Correctional facilities were exempted after it was revealed in March that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration had withdrawn its support for the indoor heat rules due to implementation costs, which it said hovered in the billions of dollars.

Employers concerned about the extra costs of complying with the standard decried the move as unfair during a public meeting of the workplace safety board the following month.

“How does an evaluation and analysis from the lens of one employer and one work environment weigh heavier than the rest of us?” asked business advisor Helen Cleary, who directs the Phylmar Regulatory Roundtable. “The implementation burden of the requirements impacts all employers and are not exclusive to state prisons.”

Business associations have also contended that some requirements, such as access to “cool-down areas” when temperatures reach 82 degrees or higher, could be too burdensome for very small restaurants and other businesses.

Earlier this month, Newsom dismissed an occupational safety board member and demoted another one from the chairman position. Laura Stock and David Thomas had openly criticized the administration at the board’s meeting in March for seemingly derailing a final vote on the indoor heat standard.

During Thursday’s meeting, several members of the public expressed appreciation for Stocks’ and Thomas’ service as well as disappointment at Newsom’s move.

“We hope that this decision does not dampen the board’s willingness to continue standing up for workers,” one speaker said.

After the standards board’s approval on Thursday, the Office of Administrative Law has 30 working days to review the regulations. The rules could take effect as early as August, according to the board.

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