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When Are Employers Liable Under California Heat Stroke Law?

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In the midst of record-breaking heatwaves, extreme temperatures are exposing workers to dangerous conditions. California heat stroke law requires companies to ensure that employees working outside have access to adequate shade and water when temperatures exceed 80°F (with additional measures and protections for temperatures of 95°F and above) through CIV § 3395, the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard. Unfortunately, not all companies follow these essential rules. If you are suffering from heat-related injuries in the workplace, your employer could be at fault, and you may be owed significant compensation for your case.

What is a risk factor for heat-related illness?

To maintain a healthy interior temperature, the body must shed excess heat. Under normal circumstances, the body does this naturally through increased circulation and sweat. However, when working in hot environments, this may not occur quickly enough, and the body’s internal temperature can rise to unsafe levels. In such cases, individuals are more susceptible to heat-related deaths and injuries. According to the CDC, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses include the following symptoms: high body temperature, muscle pain, a fast pulse, excessive sweating, headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, and passing out. In a study released by the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in July of 2021, it was found that these very symptoms and effects may be at least partially responsible for an increase in additional injuries in the workplace on hotter days.

Data from California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) states that there were 51 deaths and 719 injuries in the workplace between 2005 and 2020 as a result of heat illness. However, new research from the Institute of Labor Economics estimates that approximately 360,000 additional heat-related injuries in the workplace occurred in the state between 2001 to 2018. The study also found that heat-related injuries were 10% to 15% more likely more likely to occur on days with temperatures above 100°F, as opposed to days in the 60s. Examples of accidents and injuries influenced by extreme heat conditions cited in the study include “injuries caused by falling from heights, being struck by a moving vehicle, or mishandling dangerous machinery.”

Construction worker wiping forehead - when are employers liable under California heat stroke law?

The Limits of California Heat Stroke Law

In 2005, the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard was passed to help protect outdoor workers from fatal heat. This requires companies to provide their employees with shade, water, and rest when temperatures exceed 95 °F. Although the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard has been documented to reduce heat-related illness and injury by approximately a third, it ignores other industries that have employees working in hot environments indoors. From restaurant workers cooking without air conditioning, to workers operating machinery in warehouses with trapped heat, many indoor workers are not covered by any kind of legislation.

According to the New York Times, the lowest-paid 20% of workers are also 5 times more likely to suffer heat-related deaths and injuries as compared to the highest-paid 20% of workers. After a 2011 incident in which a warehouse worker spent 3 days in a hospital due to heatstroke, workplace safety advocates helped push for Senate Bill 1167. In effect, the bill would extend the existing Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard to indoor workers. Despite the January 2019 deadline set out in the bill, the new rules still need to be finalized and reviewed, and cannot yet be enforced.

Can I sue for heat-related injuries in the workplace?

If you’ve been the victim of a heat-related illness or injury at work, and your employer was negligent in upholding the standards of California heat stroke law, you may have grounds to sue. In addition, if the company you’re employed by is found to be in serious violation of the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard, an Order Prohibiting Use (OPU) may be issued to ensure the safety of all workers prior to the resumption of labor.

Hiring a personal injury firm with a proven track record is the best way to obtain the maximum amount of compensation for your heat injury or illness case. With more than 50 years of combined experience, Avrek Law has recovered over $1 Billion for clients in more than 10,000 personal injury cases. Contact our team to receive a free consultation and learn more about our “no win, no fee” policy – we’re here to help!

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