Indoor Heat Standard Adopted by California Standards Board

July 01, 2024
A new regulation approved last week by California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, the standards-setting agency within Cal/OSHA, is intended to protect indoor workers from heat illness. The standard will apply to most indoor workplaces, including restaurants, warehouses, and manufacturing facilities. Local and state correctional facilities are places of employment exempt from the standard. Also exempt are emergency operations that are “directly involved in the protection of life or property.” The state’s Office of Administrative Law is set to review the regulation within 30 working days. If approved, the board requested that the new regulation take effect immediately.
The requirements of the standard will be effective for indoor workplaces when the indoor temperature reaches or exceeds 87°F when employees are present. The regulation also addresses conditions under which employees in indoor workplaces face higher risk of heat illness. For example, if workers are wearing clothing that restricts heat removal or employees are working in areas with high radiant heat, the requirements of the standard will apply when the temperature reaches 82°F.
Under the new standard, employers will also be required to provide workers with access to cool-down areas that are kept below 82°F with physical barriers to shield workers from sources of radiant heat. Additional requirements cover assessment and control measures, emergency response procedures, acclimatization, and training for both employees and supervisors. Employers will also be required to establish, implement, and maintain effective written heat illness prevention plans.
Employers that have both indoor and outdoor workplaces may be covered under both the new regulation and California’s regulations that apply to outdoor workplaces. A chart from Cal/OSHA compares the state’s indoor and outdoor heat illness prevention standards.
The text of the regulation is available as a PDF from the website of the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). Learn more from the department’s news release and the DIR webpage on indoor heat illness prevention.
Stormwater Permit Violations Lead to $24,780 Penalty
The EPA announced that Carlisle Construction Materials, LLC, paid a $24,780 penalty for Clean Water Act violations that occurred at its former facility in McMinnville, Oregon.
In December 2021, an EPA inspector found several violations of the company’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit including:
  • failure to document an undisclosed stormwater discharge source in their Stormwater Pollution Control Plan
  • failure to monitor, sample, and visually inspect undisclosed stormwater discharge source
  • failure to reduce exposure of crumb rubber pile against stormwater.
“EPA is committed to enforcing the stormwater rules under the Clean Water Act to protect our treasured Pacific Northwest waterbodies,” said EPA Region 10 Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Director Ed Kowalski. “In this case, this enforcement action helped prevent thousands of pounds of pollution from entering the South Yamhill River.”
Due to excessive levels of dissolved oxygen, phosphorus, iron, and for high temperatures, the South Yamhill River is considered an impaired waterbody by EPA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. 
The river is not meeting its Clean Water Act beneficial uses for fish and other aquatic life.
The Clean Water Act prohibits discharging pollutants from industrial sources into a water of the United States without a NPDES permit. Stormwater can pick up pollutants like chemicals, oils, and sediment from industrial facilities which are then carried into waterways and harm fish and other aquatic life.  The permit requires industrial sites to monitor, measure, and reduce stormwater pollution leaving their facilities.
CSB: “Nearly Everything That Could Go Wrong Did Go Wrong” Before Fatal Refinery Fire
On June 24, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board published its final report (PDF) on the naphtha release and fire that lead to the deaths of two BP employees at the BP-Husky Toledo Refinery in Oregon, Ohio, on Sept. 20, 2022. According to CSB’s press release, board operators responding to a process upset in the naphtha hydrotreater unit on the day of the incident made decisions that caused liquid naphtha to overfill a pressurized vessel, which normally contained only vapor. When board operators drained the vessel, its contents created a vapor cloud that ignited, causing a flash fire. This “cascading” sequence of events led CSB Chairperson Steve Owens to state, “Nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong during this incident.”
The report details how the refinery’s procedures contributed to several safety issues. For example, although the refinery had conducted process hazard analyses that identified risks such as overflow events, it did not have safeguards in place to prevent liquid naphtha overflowing from a tower into a vapor bypass line leading to the pressurized vessel. The refinery relied on operators to respond to process upsets but had not considered hazards that could arise if the vessel filled with liquid. Operators were not provided with procedures for addressing liquid in the drum.
The refinery also did not effectively manage “abnormal situations,” which CSB defines as process disturbances that basic process control systems cannot cope with. Abnormal situations are stressful to operators and can escalate into serious incidents. The refinery had experienced abnormal situations in several units, starting with water accumulating in the naphtha processes on the night of Sept. 19, almost 24 hours before the fire.
These abnormal situations included an “alarm flood.” According to the report, people can respond to no more than 10 alarms in 10 minutes. Board operators at the refinery experienced more than 3,700 alarms in the 12 hours before the incident, and as many as 281 alarms in one 10-minute period. “Such a situation is virtually impossible to manage for extended periods without missing critical alarms or errors occurring,” the report states.
CSB found that the refinery had not learned from an incident that led to naphtha filling the pressure vessel in 2019 or from the fatal explosions at another BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, in 2005. If BP had effectively recognized and acted on the warning signs, the report states, “the company could have provided more effective safeguards to prevent the overflow of multiple vessels during a refinery upset such as the September 20, 2022, incident.”
The report does not include recommendations made to BP, as the company no longer operates the refinery in question. However, CSB issued a range of recommendations to the refinery’s current operator, Ohio Refining Company LLC, which include clearly providing employees with the authority to stop work they perceive to be unsafe and training them on how to exercise this authority in abnormal situations. CSB also recommended that the American Petroleum Institute and the International Society of Automation develop guidance on preventing pressure vessel overflow and managing alarm systems, respectively.
The fire on Sept. 20, 2022, was the largest fatal incident at a BP-operated petroleum refinery in the U.S. since the Texas City explosions and fires in 2005, which resulted in the deaths of 15 workers and injuries to 180 other people.
EPA Fines Massachusetts Company for Clean Air Act Violations
The EPA has reached a settlement with a seafood processor in Gloucester, Massachusetts, resolving alleged violations of the General Duty Clause of Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. The violations stem from the company's handling of anhydrous ammonia at its facility. NSDJ Real Estate, LLC, Gloucester Cold Storage, and NSD Seafood Inc. d/b/a Atlantic Fish and Seafood have agreed to pay a $25,000 penalty, finish addressing a final compliance action, and implement two Supplemental Environmental Projects ("SEPs"). The SEPs, which are estimated to cost $129,000, involve installing equipment that will eliminate a common source of ammonia leakage and donating ammonia emergency response equipment to the Gloucester Fire Department to support its chemical accident response capabilities.
"EPA's mission is rooted in safeguarding all communities from pollution, including chemical releases," said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. "This is even more critical with the changing climate and the increased vulnerabilities associated with facilities situated in populated or hurricane-prone areas."
Atlantic Fish uses two ammonia refrigeration systems to maintain the needed temperatures for the processing and storage of seafood products. Anhydrous ammonia is an efficient refrigerant with low global warming potential, but it must be handled with care because it is toxic and highly corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs.
The facility is in an urban setting alongside Gloucester's Inner Harbor in a large and densely populated residential area. It is near hundreds of homes, restaurants and other businesses, an elementary school, and houses of worship.
An EPA inspection revealed multiple deviations from the GDC requirements to design and maintain a safe facility, taking such steps as are necessary to prevent releases, and to minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur. EPA consults industry standards of care to determine what it means to violate these requirements, and Respondents deviated from many of these standards. Respondents have corrected most of the deficiencies identified by EPA.
The goal of Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act is to prevent accidental releases of substances that can cause serious harm to the public and the environment from short-term exposures and to mitigate the severity of releases that do occur. Failure to comply with the section's General Duty Clause requirements to identify hazards, design and maintain a safe facility, and take steps to limit and mitigate the harm from accidental releases of extremely hazardous substances puts the local population and environment at risk.
Federal Investigators Identify 43 Safety Violations at Pork Processing Facility
A Sandusky, Ohio, pork processing facility exposed workers to a release of ammonia gas, leading the U.S. Department of Labor to open two inspections and issue 43 violations of federal regulations.
Investigators with OSHA opened inspections at HK Cooperative Inc., operating as J.H. Routh Packing Co., in December 2023 and January 2024 after a local government agency notified OSHA that two workers suffered exposure to ammonia gas during maintenance of a refrigeration system.
Opened under the agency’s Regional Emphasis Program for food manufacturing, the inspections identified a wide range of safety concerns for which OSHA issued 40 serious violations and two other-than-serious violations and one repeat violation. The company also received one repeat violation for exposing employees to amputation and other serious hazards due to inadequate point-of-operation guarding on a meat saw.
The agency has assessed J.H. Routh Packing Co. with $528,441 in proposed penalties.
“Every day, people employed in food manufacturing operations face serious safety and health hazards. Unsafe exposure to ammonia in refrigeration can irritate the respiratory tract, eyes, and nasal passages. At high levels, ammonia exposure may even be fatal,” said OSHA Area Director Todd Jensen in Toledo, Ohio. “J.H. Routh Packing Co. and other Ohio food industry employers must review their procedures to continually protect workers from preventable injuries and allow them to end their work shifts safely.”
OSHA cited the company with serious violations for hazards that included the following:
  • Lack of fall protection
  • Inadequate permit-required confined space procedures
  • Lockout/tagout procedures for machines
  • Electrical safety related work practices
  • Unsafe electrical equipment and installations
  • Lack of personal protective equipment
  • Noise exposure
  • Lack of an emergency eyewash/shower
  • No hazard communication plans
  • Failure to mark all exits
  • Lack of lockout devices
  • Unsafe walking working surfaces and stairways
HK Cooperative’s previous OSHA citations include a serious violation in March 2024 for failing to protect employees from bloodborne pathogens and assessed a $13,828 penalty, which the employer is currently contesting. In November 2023, violations were issued for electrical hazards, machine guarding and for improperly maintained tools.
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