California takes steps to protect restaurant workers from dangerous heat

Kitchens would need to be cooled down whenever the temperature hits 87 degrees. Breaks, "cool-down areas" and water would also have to be provided.
California regulators have proposed new heat safety protocols. | Photo: Shutterstock

After sweating through the first dangerous heatwave of 2024, California is imposing new employer standards for safeguarding restaurant kitchen staffs and other workers who labor indoors amid what can be blistering conditions.

Under regulatory changes announced Thursday, businesses whose employees work indoors would be required to take protective action if interior temperature readings climb above 87 degrees. Workplaces would need to be cooled to no more than 87 degrees “if feasible,” or to no more than 82 degrees if employees wear protective clothing and work amid equipment that emits heat, like stoves and ovens.

In addition, employers would be required to take such steps as providing water, “cool-down areas” and rest breaks.

In announcing the new regulations, the state Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) did not specify what might render a heat remedy unfeasible.

It specifically mentioned restaurant kitchens as indoor workplaces that would be affected by the stepped-up safeguards.

A state agency empowered to review regulatory changes, the Office of Administrative Law, has 30 business days to review the new employer obligations and give a thumbs-up or down. The OSHSB has asked that the new requirements take effect immediately if the Administrative Law Office approves them.

The regulations were aired as meteorologists warned of triple-digit temperatures in some parts of California.

A huge swath of the country, extending all the way to Vermont, was similarly sweltering last weekend.

Dangerous heat in the workplace has become a major focus of safety officials and organized labor as temperatures continue to set and break new records. Deaths from heat soared to 2,030 in the U.S. last year, the highest tally in the 45 years that such records have been kept. According to the U.S. Health & Human Services Department, that compares with 1,600 fatalities in 2021 and 1,722 heat-related deaths in 2022. Those figures include all deaths traced to the heat, and not just workplace casualties.

The U.S. Department of Labor was directed by the White House almost three years ago to update federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration workplace standards to better protect workers from the dangers of excessive heat.

A set of proposed federal safeguards is currently being reviewed by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

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