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Stay Out of the Heat – Understanding Heat Illness Prevention Regulations

Article contributed by AgSafe Director of Education Angelina Ceja


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As temperatures continue to rise in the Central Valley, it is important for growers to understand not only the precautions they should take to keep employees safe while working in the heat but also the elements of regulatory compliance related to heat illness prevention.

According to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), the most frequently cited violations in agriculture under the Heat Illness Prevention Standard are 1) failure to have a Heat Illness Prevention Plan in the field, 2) a lack of heat illness prevention training, and 3) a failure to provide adequate shade and water.

In order to ensure compliance and avoid regulatory discipline, AgSafe has provided a guidance on what a prevention plan and trainings should look should, in addition to what qualifies as “adequate shade and water.”

Heat Illness Prevention Plan: What must it include?

A grower or company’s written Heat Illness Prevention Plan must include the following elements as well as specific details as to how that entity will ensure each provision is met:

  • the designated person(s) that have the authority and responsibility for implementing the plan in the orchard,
  • procedures for providing sufficient water,
  • procedures for providing access to shade,
  • high-heat procedures,
  • emergency response procedures (don’t forget your lone workers such as irrigators), and
  • acclimatization methods and procedures. 

When drafting your plan, it is important to consider the size of your crew, the length of the work day, the ambient temperatures and any additional personal protective equipment (PPE) that contributes as an additional source of heat. The plan needs to be provided in English and the language understood by the majority of the employees (if other than English). Finally, the plan must be located at the worksite and easily accessible to employees.

The Ins and Outs of Heat Illness Prevention Training

Employee training needs to be conducted before an employee begins a shift that could result in the risk of heat illness. Each training should cover the following:

  • the environmental and personal risk factors associated with heat illness, as well as the added burden of heat load on the body caused by exertion, clothing and personal protective equipment;
  • the employer's procedures for complying with the plan’s elements including the employer's responsibility to provide water, shade, cool-down rests and access to first aid as well as the employees' right to exercise their rights;
  • the importance of frequent consumption of small quantities of water throughout the workday;
  • the concept, importance and methods of acclimatization;
  • the different types of heat illness, common signs and symptoms, and appropriate first aid and emergency responses to the different types of heat illness (must also mention that heat illness may progress quickly from mild symptoms to serious and life-threatening illness);
  • the importance of immediately reporting to the employer – directly or through the employee's supervisor – signs or symptoms of heat illness experienced by an employee or his/her co-worker/s;
  • the employer's procedures for responding to signs or symptoms of possible heat illness, including how emergency medical services will be provided should they become necessary;
  • the employer's procedures for contacting emergency medical services and, when necessary, transporting employees to a location where they can be reached by an emergency medical service provider; and
  • the employer's procedures for ensuring that, in the event of an emergency, clear and precise directions to the work site can and will be provided as needed to emergency responders. These procedures should include designating a person to be available to ensure that emergency procedures are initiated when appropriate.

Beyond just employee trainings, supervisor trainings needs to be completed prior to supervising employees and include the following topics:

  • all of the topics covered during employee training (listed above),
  • the procedures the supervisor is to follow to implement the heat illness prevention plan procedures,
  • the protocol a supervisor is to follow when an employee exhibits signs or reports symptoms consistent with possible heat illness, including emergency response procedures, and
  • how to monitor weather reports and how to respond to hot weather advisories.

It's important for shift supervisors and employers to educate employees on a variety of heat safety matters, including the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke, as explained above.

Defining “Adequate Shade and Water”


“Adequate shade” essentially means blockage of direct sunlight. One indicator that blockage is sufficient is when objects do not cast a shadow in the area of blocked sunlight. Shade is not adequate when heat in the area of shade defeats the purpose of shade, which is to allow the body to cool. For example, a car sitting in the sun does not provide acceptable shade to a person inside it, unless the car is running with air conditioning. Shade may be provided by any natural or artificial means that does not expose employees to unsafe or unhealthy conditions and that does not deter or discourage access or use.

Employeers need to ensure shade is available for employees once the temperature exceeds 80-degrees Fahrenheit. To accurately determine when its surpasses 80 degrees, Cal/OSHA urges employers to not rely on their cell phones because it does not reflect site-specific temperatures. Instead, the best practice is to invest in and use an outdoor thermometer daily.

The amount of shade present should be at least enough to accommodate the number of employees on recovery or taking rest periods so that they can sit in a normal posture fully in the shade without having to be in physical contact with each other. The shade should be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working. Further, shade needs to be available – even when the temperature does not exceed 80-degrees Fahrenheit – upon employee request.

According to state regulations, the amount of shade made available to employees must be, at minimum, able to accommodate the number of employees on recovery or rest periods so that they can sit in a normal posture fully covered by the shade without having to be in physical contact with each other.


Employees should always have access to potable drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and provided free of charge. The water should be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working. Where drinking water is not plumbed or otherwise continuously supplied, it shall be provided in a sufficient quantity at the beginning of the work shift to provide one quart per employee per hour for drinking during the entire shift. Employers provde smaller quantities of water at the beginning of the shift if they have effective procedures in place to replenish the water during the shift, as needed, to allow employees to drink one quart or more per hour.

Coming Soon: Indoor Heat Illness Prevention Standard

In 2016, the California legislature passed, and Governor Brown signed, Senate Bill 1167. This bill directed Cal/OSHA to propose a Heat Illness and Injury Prevention Standard applicable to employees working indoors. The agency developed a proposed standard and the language of the proposed standard has been open to several public comment periods.

On April 22, 2019 the most current revised draft standard was posted. Cal/OSHA is preparing rulemaking documents based on that draft. No further changes prior to rulemaking are expected.

In summary, the most current version of the draft language addresses the issue of mitigating heat illness in indoor places of employment, including agriculture, as follows:

  • applies to all indoor work areas regardless of industry when workers wear clothing that restricts heat removal and the temperatures equal or exceed 82-degrees Fahrenheit,
  • applies to all other indoor work areas not previously mentioned where temperatures equal or exceed 87-degrees Fahrenheit when employees are present, and includes temperature assessment, documentation and control measures when temperatures equal or exceed 87-degrees Fahrenheit,
  • includes provisions on adequate water and cool-down areas,
  • requires employers to provide appropriate first aid/emergency response if an employee exhibits signs or symptoms of heat illness,
  • requires employers to have a written Indoor Heat Illness Prevention Plan that includes appropriate emergency response procedures,
  • requires close observation of employees during acclimatization, and
  • requires employers to provide training for employees and supervisors prior to possible heat exposure.

To read the complete Senate Bill 1167 draft text and stay up-to-date on the process as it continues to unfold, visit the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention in Indoor Places of Employment webpage.

For more information about heat illness prevention, worker safety, human resources, labor relations, pesticide safety or food safety issues, please visit or contact us at (209) 526-4400 or via email at

AgSafe is a 501c3 nonprofit providing training, education, outreach and tools in the areas of worker safety, human resources, labor relations, pesticide safety and food safety issues for the food and farming industries. Since 1991, AgSafe has educated nearly 75,000 employers, supervisors and workers on these critical issues.