Relief is on the horizon for California fast-food workers operating hot kitchen appliances, logistics workers in vast inland warehouses that lack cooling equipment and others laboring in hot indoor settings as a state agency Thursday approved new workplace protections against excessive heat.

A standards board at the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health voted unanimously to adopt safety measures that require employers to provide cooling areas and monitor workers for signs of heat illness when indoor workplaces temperatures reach or surpass 82 degrees.

If temperatures climb to 87 degrees, or workers are made to work near hot equipment, employers must take additional safety precautions by cooling the work site, allocating more breaks, rotating out workers or making other adjustments.

The new rules still must undergo a procedural legal review. If that review process is expedited the new rules could be in effect by late July or early August. Otherwise, they are likely to be in place by October.

Thursday’s vote marked the end of more than five years of delays in the effort to strengthen the state’s requirements for indoor working conditions. Most recently, a scheduled vote on the rules in March was cancelled after finance officials from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration raised last-minute concerns about the costs California prisons and other public entities would incur trying to adhere to the new rules.

In light of those concerns, the rules were amended to exclude state and local correctional facilities.

During a public comment period before the board voted, several people urged the board to pass the long-awaited measure.

Tim Shadix, legal director at Warehouse Worker, an advocacy group, said it “would be a tragedy,” if workers become sick from heat exposure this summer and hoped to see the rules in place “well before the end of summer.”

AnaStacia Nicol Wright, a policy manager at Worksafe, voiced concern about the decision to exclude correctional facilities, which employ tens of thousands of people in “archaic buildings with little protection from temperatures.”

Wright pressed the board should move swiftly to put pass separate protections for correctional staff and incarcerated workers.

California, in 2006, became the first state in the nation to implement heat standards for outdoor work, requiring employers to provide access to shade and water, and cool-down rests when workers need them. In high heat conditions, defined as temperatures of 95 degrees or higher, employers are required to remind workers of safe practices, encourage breaks and drinking water, and observe them for signs or symptoms of heat illness.

In 2016, the California Legislature turned its attention to indoor conditions, directing the Cal/OSHA to develop an indoor heat standard by 2019. The agency drafted a proposal mirroring the state regulations that protect outdoor workers, but the rule-making process moved slowly, blowing past the 2019 deadline.

Thursday’s vote came against the backdrop of recent shake-ups on the board that approved the rules.

Earlier this month, the Newsom administration removed worker safety expert Laura Stock and demoted David Thomas from his position as chair of the board after they criticized the 11th-hour decision to delay the vote in March.

Head of the California Labor Federation Lorena Gonzalez criticized the move, saying neither she nor other labor leaders had been consulted in advance.

“Obviously, we are disappointed. We think it’s a big loss for the board,” Gonzalez said. “We hope it’s not retribution for standing up for workers on heat standards.”

In recent years, as the state has experienced record-breaking heat waves, cooks, warehouse workers and delivery drivers have repeatedly raised concerns about high temperatures.

Victor Ramirez, who has worked in various warehouses in the Inland Empire over the past two decades, most recently at a facility in Fontana operated by Menasha Packaging, said many of the warehouses he’s worked in did not have air conditioning or fans. In recent years, fans and air conditioning have become more common, but they “aren’t very effective and those warehouses still feel hot,” he said.

“We need this rule in place right now. Workers need protections, they need training so they know the dangers of the job and working in heat,” Ramirez said. “It’s a basic right to work in a safe environment.”

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