Last year, the California legislature passed a law requiring the state to develop rules to protect warehouse, restaurant and other workers who toil in hot indoor conditions. Regulators have until 2019 to develop the rules, but lawmakers this week could pass a bill that would speed up the process by as much as a year.
So for those who work indoors without AC, or know someone who does, here's what you need to know about SB 772:
Don't workers already have a law protecting them on hot days?
State law requires California employers to provide all of their outdoor workers with water and rest breaks, regardless of the temperature. Shade must provided, if an employee requests it, at any temperature. When it reaches 80 degrees, shade becomes a requirement. When it reaches 95 degrees, employers must follow additional procedures to protect their outdoor workers from excessive heat, such as watching their crews more closely to identify workers who are overheating.
There is not yet a heat standard for workers exposed to indoor heat. Last year, the legislature passed SB 1167, authored by Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), which gives the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) until Jan. 1 2019 to develop the rules for businesses to follow.
How could the process be fast tracked?
Leyva says she subsequently decided that 2019 is too long to wait for the indoor heat standard, and that's why she introduced SB 772. It would allow Cal-OSHA to skip a step called the Standardized Regulatory Impact Assessment. This assessment is typically required for all new state regulations that have an economic impact greater than $50 million, and it can take a year to complete.
Leyva believes the risks of waiting for the impact assessment outweigh the benefits of it. At a public hearing about indoor heat in May, workers described what it's like to work in 100 degree heat, and told stories of their co-workers fainting on the job.
Who's opposed to the fast tracking and why?
Various business groups including the California Chamber of Commerce. They say the rule making process should not be rushed, and that this fiscal assessment is a vital step in establishing the heat standard in a fair way for all industries.
In a memo about the bill, the Chamber wrote this:
"When an agency such as Cal/OSHA—which has jurisdiction over virtually all businesses operating in this state and the 18 million wage-earning Californians they employ—plans to make a decision that will have a significant impact on all of California, the public needs more information, thoughtfulness, and transparency, not less."
In that same May public hearing, business representatives described the difficulties of drafting indoor heat rules that will work across many industries. They cautioned the state to carefully consider straightforward rules tailored to specific industries, and not to rush the process.
What's the deadline?
The state legislature adjourns on Friday. Many bills are up for final votes this week, so SB 772 will be jockeying for a slot in a crowded field. The Assembly must pass the measure and it must receive final approval from the Senate before it would move on to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk for his signature. Brown has not indicated whether he would sign it.
This story was updated to clarify state law requiring outdoor workers.