Photo: California Heat Standard Revisions Bring New Protections for High Risk Workers

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) approved important revisions to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (better known as Cal/OSHA) heat illness prevention standard by a majority vote effective May 1, 2015. The current OSHSB members include Patricia Quinlan, deputy director of COEH, and Laura Stock, director of the UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program.

The new changes will require employers to closely observe new employees during their first two weeks working in a high heat area, as well as all employees during heat waves; provide shade for all workers on a rest or meal break at 80°F (lowered from 85°F); provide water to employees free of charge and shade as close as practicable to workers; encourage employees to take preventative cool-down rest breaks in the shade; and develop and implement emergency response procedures, among other changes. The new standard applies to those employed in agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction, and part of transportation.

Currently, COEH scientists from UC Davis are studying physiological responses to heat and physical work in inland valley field workers. The California Heat Illness Prevention Study (CHIPS) is a five-year project sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health led by principal investigator Dr. Marc Schenker, the director of COEH at UC Davis. Their goal is to ensure agricultural workers have the safest possible working conditions in a region where temperatures often exceed 100 degrees over the harvest seasons.

CHIPS researcher Sally Moyce, a doctoral candidate in Healthcare Leadership and Nursing Science from the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, is conducting a novel study exploring the links between kidney disease and heat exposure among farmworkers in California.

While a nurse at a clinic for migrant farmworkers in Oregon, Moyce met a young woman diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. “It was baffling to us at the clinic because we didn’t understand why she had developed this,” said Moyce. “That experience really stuck with me. And, as I was sharing my background with Marc Schenker, I told him that story, and he said, you know, this is not as uncommon as you think.”

For her doctoral study, she has evaluated heat exposure and renal function in a cohort of 300 male and female farmworkers. The average age of the cohort was 38 years old, with the majority of participants aged 26 to 50 years. Moyce has completed her first year of data collection, including information about acute kidney injury and common preconditions such as hypertension, diabetes, age, and health history.

Although Moyce is in the data analysis phase of her project, her early results suggest occupational factors may play a role in the development of chronic kidney disease. “If you have repeat injury and you just never fully recover, it may eventually become a pathway to chronic kidney disease.

If you multiply that out to the number of shifts that people work over an entire season, and then over many years, the problem is actually quite frightening. It’s a big issue because the majority of this population lack legal status and access to healthcare and health insurance, so they have very limited access to life saving dialysis.”

“If it turns out that chronic kidney disease is directly associated with a preventable occupational hazard such as heat exposure or not enough hydration, then the new heat standards in California will potentially help to prevent kidney injury,” said Moyce.

Moyce received funding for her study from the Betty Irene Moore Foundation, the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, the Health Initiative of the America’s PIMSA research program, and a grant from the UC Global Health Institute’s One Health Initiative.

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