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Thermal protections for California workers are in limbo after Newsom abandons the rules – KFF Health News

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has abandoned proposed protections for millions of California workers who toil in sweltering warehouses, steamy kitchens and other dangerously hot workplaces — upending a regulatory process that had lasted for years.

The administration’s last-minute decision, which it attributes to the cost of the new regulations, angered workplace safety advocates and state regulators, sparking a mad rush to implement the emergency rules before summer.

But it’s unclear how, when or if the emergency rules will be lifted, or whether they will be in place in time to protect workers from the intensifying heat.

“It’s the administration’s moral obligation to address this problem,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a former state lawmaker and executive director of the California Federation of Labor, which represents more than 1,300 unions. “We need to pass emergency regulations or laws quickly, because we can’t stop summer.”

California has had heating standards for outdoor workers since 2005, and indoor workplaces were supposed to be next. The proposed standards would have required workplaces to be cooled below 87 degrees Fahrenheit when employees are present and below 82 degrees in areas where workers wear protective clothing or are exposed to radiant heat, such as furnaces. Buildings could be cooled with air conditioning, fans, misters and other methods.

The rules would have allowed workarounds for businesses that failed to sufficiently cool their workplaces, such as laundries or restaurant kitchens.

Despite the administration’s concerns, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approved the rules at its March 21 meeting, sparking a tense political standoff between workplace safety advocates and Newsom, the A second-term Democratic governor who has sought to raise his national profile and claim progressive leadership on climate change and workers’ rights – key platforms for the Democratic Party.

State Department of Finance spokesman HD Palmer said the problem is not the state’s growing budget deficit – estimated at $38 billion to $73 billion – but a legal requirement to set the cost rules for state government.

“It wasn’t, ‘We’re trying to defeat these regulations,'” Palmer said.

Palmer said the administration received a grim cost estimate from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, indicating that implementing the standards in its prisons and other facilities could cost billions. The council’s economic analysis, by contrast, puts the cost at less than $1 million a year.

“Without our agreement on the budget estimates, these regulations in their latest version will not come into force,” he said.

Corrections spokesman Albert Lundeen said the rules would result in significant expenses that could require lawmakers to fund “significant capital improvements.” He added that the agency is committed to discussing “how these regulations could be cost-effectively implemented across our institutions to further enhance worker safety.”

Council members argue that the state has had years to analyze the cost of the proposed standards and must quickly impose emergency regulations. But it’s unclear exactly how that might happen, whether in days by the administration or months through the state budget process — or some other way.

“This is a public health emergency,” said Laura Stock, a board member and occupational safety and health expert at the University of California, Berkeley.

Newsom spokeswoman Erin Mellon defended the decision to end the permanent regulations, saying approving them would be “reckless” without a detailed cost estimate.

“The administration is committed to implementing indoor heat regulations and ensuring workplaces are protected,” she said in a statement. “We are exploring all options to put these worker protections in place, including working with the Legislature. »

Only Minnesota and Oregon have adopted thermal rules for indoor workers. Legislation has stalled in Congress, and although the Biden administration has started the lengthy process of establishing national heating standards for outdoor and indoor jobs, finalizing them could take years.

Seven workers died in California from indoor heat between 2010 and 2017. Heat stress can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, cardiac arrest and kidney failure. In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,600 heat-related deaths nationally, which is likely an underestimate because health care providers are not required to report them. It’s unclear how many of these deaths are work-related, whether indoors or outdoors.

The process of adopting California’s standards for indoor light heads began in 2016 and involved years of negotiations with businesses and labor rights advocates.

Several board members acknowledged they were frustrated by the administration’s lack of support when they adopted the regulations in March — after their meeting was temporarily interrupted by angry warehouse workers and chanting slogans – knowing they would not come into effect. Instead, they said, they wanted to amplify the pressure on Newsom.

“Every summer is hotter than the last, and workers who aren’t protected are at risk of heat illness or death,” said Dave Harrison, a board member and powerful union leader for the section. local 3 operating engineers. “We were hoping the vote would be symbolic in sending a message to the state government that, look, this is important, which is why we decided to vote on this anyway and send it to the court in the State.”

This article was produced by KFF Health Newswho publishes California Health Linean editorial service independent of California Health Care Foundation.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues and is one of KFF’s primary operating programs, an independent source of health policy research, polling and journalism. Learn more about KFF.

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