California employers now have clarification on how close they must keep water provisions to work areas to prevent heat illness thanks to a ruling by the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (OSHAB).
OSHAB’s Feb. 6 precedential decision affirmed that water provisions must be “as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working to encourage frequent consumption.”
The case clarified the definition of what “as close as practicable” means with water placement at the workplace. In terms of providing water to prevent heat illness, the phrase means “that the water must be as close as reasonably can be accomplished in order to encourage frequent water consumption.”
Workers had to climb through trellises to get to water
A complaint led to Cal/OSHA safety inspection at the Rios Farming Co. vineyard on Aug. 6, 2018. Inspectors found some workers had to climb through multiple grape trellises to access drinking water. On January 7, 2019, Cal/OSHA cited the farm for a repeat-serious violation for not having water as close as practicable for their employees.
Rios Farming Co. appealed the citation and an administrative law judge affirmed the citation on October 12, 2022, with a modified penalty of $27,000.
Judge: Other reasonable options were available
The judge found, and OSHAB affirmed, that the trellises were an obstacle that discouraged the employees from frequently drinking water. Other reasonable options were available to the employer, according to the judge and OSHAB. Those options included providing a jug of water in each row where the employees were working or providing individual water bottles to employees that they could refill from the jugs.
“This decision provides clarity and should serve as a reminder that employers must take adequate steps to ensure that potable drinking water is as close as practicable to workers,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Jeff Killip. “Staying adequately hydrated is essential to preventing heat illness, particularly during the hot summer months.”