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Supply Chain News: Keep an Eye of Growing Regulations, Especially about Indoor Heat, in California Distribution Centers

 

California Working on New Rules for Indoor Heat Conditions that will Impact Distribution, Manufacturing Facilities

March 20, 2017
SCDigest Editorial Staff

With about one-fifth of the US population, and major ports (Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland), there are many warehouses and distribution centers in California.

Companies with current DC operations in the Golden State - or with potential plans to add a facility in California - should be aware of current and coming regulations on working conditions, especially those related to heat levels in the work environment.


Supply Chain Digest Says...

Employers of warehouse workers "should tread carefully," relative to coming California heat rules, experts say.


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According to Joe Akrotirianakis and Brig Cheney, partners at Atkinson Andelson, a firm that helps logistics industry companies with regulatory matters, most California employers are required to establish and implement an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). They say the California Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board recently upheld citations against a temporary staffing agency and a distribution center operator after a warehouse worker was hospitalized with heat stroke.

 

The Appeals Board ruled that the employers' IIPPs failed to address the hazard of indoor heat - and it can get plenty hot inside a DC.

In fact, readers may recall Amazon found itself in some "hot water," if you will, when literally dozens of workers at one of its fulfillment centers in Allentown, PA sought treatment for heat-related health issues, which led Amazon to acquire $2.4 million in air conditioners for the facility on an emergency basis. (See Amazon.com in Hot Corner after Reports of Sweltering DCs, "Urgently" Buys $2.4 Million in Air Condtioners.)

What's more, in a guest column on the Journal of Commerce site, Akrotirianakis and Cheney note that addition to penalties imposed in regulatory enforcement actions, employers whose employees work in indoor heat conditions may face individual and class action lawsuits. California's heat laws provide an avenue for plaintiffs to recover penalties in individual or class claims.

But the screws on DC operators are about to get turned even tighter when it comes to heat conditions.

California Labor Code Section 6720 went into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. That law directs the state to draft and propose heat illness and injury prevention standards for indoor worksites by Jan. 1, 2019.

Outdoor workplaces in California have been tightly regulated relative to heat illness since 2006, and employers are required to provide agricultural workers, construction workers, landscapers, and others who work outdoors with water, shade, rest breaks, and training,

Additional requirements apply when the outdoor temperature exceeds 95 degrees. Now Labor Code Section 6720 is designed to address heat-related risks for indoor workers, such as warehouse and factory associates.


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"Employees who work in indoor conditions which are, or are perceived to be, in violation of safety standards are likely to seek enforcement of this rule," Akrotirianakis and Cheney write. "This area is open-ended and subject to clarifying implementing regulations. Most probably, it will take litigation and court rulings to determine how to apply and enforce the standards."

As a result, employers of warehouse workers "should tread carefully," they say. The California Labor Code was amended in 2013 to give employees exposed to high outdoor heat conditions the right to recover penalties against an employer for failure to provide cool down recovery periods.

Subsequently, several class action lawsuits have alleged that employers failed to implement cool down recovery period policies.

We can expect similar results and actions with regard to indoor temperatures in the state, Akrotirianakis and Cheney conclude.

The Bottom Line: While the rules are still being developed for indoor workers relative to heat, the results from similar provisions for outdoor workers and California's history of strong workplace regulations likely mean some legal jeopardy for DC operators in the state if temperatures are not well-controlled. Companies need to pay close attention to how these rules play out.

Were you aware of these coming California regulations relative to heat? Do you think this will be a growing issue across the US? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below or the link above to send an email.

 

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