By Brent I. Clark and Ilana R. Morady

iStock_000076487827_LargeExpedited Hearings

A hot topic today is developments in the law of California OSHA (Cal-OSHA). Panel members are discussing the new and controversial rule on expedited proceedings under 8 CCR 373. Under the expedited proceedings rule, cases are put on a fast track when abatement has been appealed or abatement has not occurred.

Specifically, the rule states “Where the Appeals Board is aware or is notified that an alleged violation appealed is classified by the Division of Occupational Safety & Health as a Serious, Repeat Serious, Willful Serious, Willful, Willful Repeat or Failure to Abate, and either abatement is on appeal, or abatement has not occurred, the Appeals Board shall expedite the proceeding.”

When a case is expedited, a hearing must occur within 150 days of when an employer’s appeal is docketed. This new rule has proved itself to be very burdensome on employers, who are faced with either quickly preparing for hearing or abating alleged hazards which may have no actual basis in law or fact. This scheme brings California closer to other state plans which don’t permit appeals to stay abatement, especially because the effect has been that many employers are abating alleged hazards during the appeal process, regardless of whether the allegations have merit.

Heat Illness

As employers in California know, Cal-OSHA has a heat illness standard. A new provision under the standard involves access to shade. Specifically, 8 CCR 3395 now requires that employees be allowed and encouraged to take a preventative cool-down rest in the shade “when they feel the need to do so” to protect themselves from overheating. While everyone agrees that heat illness is a serious issue that must always be prevented to the extent possible, this new provision has the potential to create problems for employers because of the subjective nature of the rule and the potential for abuse by employees.

If employers encounter situations where they believe an employee is abusing the “when they feel the need to do so” requirement, they must remember to proceed with caution. Unfortunately the vague nature of the rule does not provide a lot of guidance on how employers can react these situations while avoiding potential citations or retaliation allegations.  The new regulation also requires employers to pay an additional hour of pay whenever they fail to meet the requirements of the standard.   This creates an additional non-OSHA penalty monetary obligation that can present challenges for covered employers.

Repeat Violations

The definition of what constitutes a repeat is changing. Currently the “look back” for repeats in California is 3 years. Now, keeping in line with federal-OSHA, Cal-OSHA is expected to start to looking  back 5 years. The other change that will occur is Cal-OSHA will be citing repeat violations based on previous state-wide violations.

This is a significant change; previously, Cal-OSHA could only cite for a repeat violation if the previous violation occurred at the same facility. We will blog an update when this new rule takes effect. The date is uncertain at this time but could be within the next few weeks.