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California work safety board approves indoor heat rules, but another state agency raises objections

LOS ANGELES (AP) — As global warming raises temperatures, a California work safety board has approved standards that would require companies to protect employees from excessive indoor heat, particularly in warehouses. The rules still need to overcome opposition by another state agency.

The rules were approved Thursday by the board of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, commonly known as Cal/OSHA, despite a late objection from the state Department of Finance because of cost effects on the state, the Los Angeles Times reported.

There is no federal heat standard in the United States. California has had heat protection rules for outdoor work such as agriculture and construction since 2006. But tackling indoor heat protections has taken years since the state passed legislation in 2016 to draft standards for indoor workers.

The proposed regulations would apply to workplaces ranging from warehouses to schools and kitchens, requiring cooling devices, access to water and cooling-off break areas at certain temperature thresholds as well as monitoring for signs of heat illness.

Sheheryar Kaoosji, executive director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, applauded the vote and said 15 million workers in the state stand to benefit.

“The hottest years on record have occurred in the last ten years. That means the danger of working in high heat has become more acute in the time it has taken to finalize these standards," Kaoosji said in a statement.

California experienced an e-commerce-driven boom in the construction of massive warehouses for companies such as Amazon. Concerns about heat illnesses have been repeatedly raised by workers in the industry.

Amazon said in a statement that its heat safety protocols often exceed industry standards, and it provides air conditioning in all of its fulfillment centers and air hubs.

The Department of Finance sought to halt the Cal/OSHA board's vote, citing concerns about huge costs to correctional and other facilities.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance, told the Times the impact “could be in the neighborhood of billions of dollars.”

The state Office of Administrative Law will need the Department of Finance’s approval before it can move forward with the regulations, Palmer said.

Palmer also said the Department of Finance only received some of the data involving the regulations in February.

"This was a decision that was driven by our inability to do our fiscal due diligence and evaluate this data late in the process that had a potential impact to the state,” he said.

Labor and climate activists opposed the effort to remove the heat-protection item from Thursday's meeting agenda, and board Chair David Thomas agreed.

“There’s no reason this shouldn’t be passed in my mind, because they are right that their lives are the ones that are on the line,” Thomas said.