New Regs Target Indoor Heat Illness Prevention

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Many agricultural organizations have submitted written comments opposing Cal-OSHA’s proposed heat illness prevention in indoor places of employment. California has long had an outdoor heat illness regulation, but now an indoor regulation is a possibility. Roger Isom, President and CEO of the Western Agricultural Processors Association – which includes California’s nut processors, cotton gins and other industries – spoke to California Ag Today about the issue.

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” Isom said. “There’s no problem here. The incidents that drove the legislation came out of the Riverside-Ontario, area where you had warehouses that don’t have air conditioning. Most of the time, the temperature in that area is in the 70s and 80s, occasionally in the 90s. Every once in a while they’ll get that rare heat wave that gets up to 100, and if you’re not used to it, yeah, you’re going to have a problem.”

Because Central Valley agriculture is used to the higher heat levels, the buildings are designed differently for the workers, Isom explained. “They’re adequately ventilated. The air moves through it, and we’re used to that heat, so it’s not what we’re talking about in the San Joaquin Valley. Why throw everybody under the bus, so to speak? Makes no sense in this case. It really should be a targeted regulation. The legislature’s allowed for that. Cal-OSHA just need to be directed,” Isom said.

Nearly all the farm buildings have big open doors and are well ventilated with fans and some portable evaporative coolers. Workers who come out of the field where it’s 105 degrees and then walk into those buildings find it quite comfortable.

“It’s going to not make a lot of sense that if we’re telling the guys that are working out on the gin yard to come into the gin for shade if you’re feeling hot or you’re feeling ill. Now you’re subject to another rule regarding higher heat in the building that might be contrary to what you’re doing. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Isom said.