CAL/OSHA: CLARIFIES MEANING OF “AS CLOSE AS PRACTICABLE” FOR SUPPLYING EMPLOYEES WATER OUTDOORS FOR HEAT PREVENTION
March 2, 2023
For agricultural employers, the latest decision from the Department of Industrial Relations’ Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (OSHAB) is indeed noteworthy. We now know that potable water must be provided to outdoor workers in a location that is “as close as practicable” to promote frequent intake, especially during the hot summer days. In addition, we now have a clear definition of this phrase.
It all began with a complaint against a St. Helena vineyard in 2018, where Cal/OSHA inspectors discovered that workers had to climb through several grape trellises to reach the water supply. Cal/OSHA then cited the farming company for failing to have water as close as practicable for the workers. After a failed appeal last year, the administrative law judge fined the company $27,000.
This month, OSHAB clarified the meaning of “as close as practicable” when it comes to making drinking water available for workers to prevent heat illness. According to a recent Press Release from Cal/OSHA:
… [T]he water must be as close as reasonably can be accomplished in order to encourage frequent water consumption. … [T]he trellises were an obstacle that discouraged employees from frequently drinking water. … [O]ther reasonable options were available to the employer, such as providing a jug of water in each row where the employees were working or providing individual water bottles that employees could carry with them and refill from the jugs. [emphasis added]
A Cal/OSHA representative heralded the decision as providing “clarity and should serve as a reminder that employers must take adequate steps to ensure that potable drinking water is as close as practicable to workers. … Staying adequately hydrated is essential to preventing heat illness, particularly during the hot summer months.”
Agricultural employers must keep in mind the guidance above to make sure their employees stay safe. If you have any related heat illness prevention questions or just employment/labor questions in general, contact Rosasco Law Group for assistance.
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