At least two worker safety issues that California is tackling in 2018 directly affect construction employers. A third one affects only the cannabis industry, but it’s what isn’t included that’s newsworthy for construction companies.

Quelling OSHA Workplace Violence

Statistics on workplace violence in construction are few and far between. The National Safety Council reported that workplace violence in construction had left 680 people injured and 36 dead in 2013. Meanwhile, OSHA acknowledges that 2 million people in all industries report being victims of workplace violence every year, and that number is considered just the tip of the iceberg as many incidents go unreported.

In late 2016, the federal branch of OSHA was planning on establishing standards related to workplace violence for the healthcare industry. However, the new administration lowered the priority, effectively placing it in limbo, according to an article in Business Insurance.

Meanwhile, Cal/OSHA regulations are moving forward with its own workplace violence standards to protect workers on the job. And not just in healthcare, either. The standards are expected to affect nearly every industry.

Workplace homicides in California totaled 45 in 2014. The draft Workplace Violence Prevention standard calls for businesses to have an OSHA workplace violence prevention program with appropriate recordkeeping. Besides outlining how they will involve everyone in identifying and reporting workplace violence hazards, businesses will also need plans for:

  • Communicating with employees
  • Ensuring compliance by supervisors and managers
  • Establishing training
  • Setting up procedures to follow during and after workplace violence incidents
  • Setting up a process that helps discover new unsafe conditions and work practices

Cal/OSHA held two advisory meetings on the standard in January and is currently accepting comments on the draft of the new standard.

CA Turns up the Heat on Heat Illness

California is also blazing a trail in worker safety with its new standard for indoor heat illness prevention. Cal/OSHA heat illness standards will cover any indoor location that could have temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Such regulations have far-reaching implications for any construction business interested in improving worker safety and productivity.

Canada’s National Research Council has collected research on implications of working in the heat. When the temperature is between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and the relative humidity is between 30 and 80 percent, humans perform most effectively. As temps and humidity veer away from those benchmarks, both safety and productivity suffer.

It can be concluded, then, that an employee working in an enclosed space with temperatures above 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity is highly likely to suffer from heat stress. The pain and suffering alone are good reasons to change the environment to one that’s healthier for workers.

You can expect a 25 percent drop in productivity when people work at 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 percent relative humidity, according to statistics published by the Washington Post. Do the math. If you’ve got four people, each earning $10 per hour, who are working on an indoor demolition task in such conditions, it costs $10 an hour in lost productivity. As the temp and humidity rise, so do the losses.

The Cal/OSHA discussion draft (containing preliminary discussion of new rules scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019) applies to indoor work spaces with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit as workers do moderate labor, and 80 degrees Fahrenheit when doing heavy labor. It won’t apply when there’s an air-conditioning system keeping the temperature at 85 degrees or less. It also won’t apply where the AC is under repair for up to four days a year as long as the temp doesn’t go above 90 degrees when employees do light or moderate work.

There’s also an exception for indoor places without high radiant heat areas when employees work for less than an hour a day.

Employer requirements are similar to those required in a standard safety plan. They include:

  • A written plan that outlines how the employer will get employees actively involved in the plan
  • Procedures for identifying and assessing heat stress hazards
  • Rest and hydration procedures
  • First aid and emergency response
  • Control measures
  • Training and record keeping

So far, the state has held three advisory meetings and is accepting comments.

Employer Status Quo for Cannabis

New OSHA regulations for 2018 also include newly drafted rules regarding marijuana, but these apply to workplaces that deal in cannabis.

Naturally, though, California’s legalization of pot is prompting employer questions about marijuana use and their workers. The answer: not much changes. According to legal firm Ogletree Deakins, the legalization “leaves employers’ workplace rights undisturbed.” So they can still use workplace policies related to pot—and can still maintain drug-free and alcohol-free workplaces.

To find out more about the current Cal/OSHA regulations, you can go to the State of California Department of Industrial Relations.