The crews at Southern California Edison, the electric utility based in Rosemead, will work in almost every weather condition to make sure generating units function properly and adequately. But they take precautions first, spokesman Paul Klein said.
"During periods of peak demand, Edison crews do make sure they take precaution against the heat, get enough water to drink and make sure they are working in as safe a condition as possible," Klein said.
As demonstrated by recent events, high temperatures can be a threat to life. Last month, a 17-year-old farmworker named Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez died, and California occupational safety authorities called it a heat-related fatality. The United Farm Workers called her treatment an "egregious" violation of safety regulations that went into effect three years ago.
Hers was one of the three on-the-job deaths that occurred this year because of the heat. The 17-year-old worked for the Solis Farm Labor Contractor of Galt, near Sacramento. Another victim worked for the Ruben Seeds Co. in San Diego, and the other died May 16 in Van Nuys.
"This type of temperature is always a serious threat," said Cal/OSHA's Welsh. "People tend to think of hot weather as a pain in the neck, but they don't think of it as deadly.
"People can die, people can get very sick. Employees should have shade and ample amounts of water. You can sweat out a quart of water in an hour, so your body can be depleted very rapidly."
State regulations say employers must provide their outdoor employees accessible, clean drinking water and proper shade or cooling areas. Employers also should encourage each employee to drink four 8-ounce cups of fresh water an hour. Some early signs of heat illness to watch for, the state said, are headaches, muscle cramps and unusual fatigue.
Regulations ensuring employee safety began in 1989, when California adopted the Injury and Illness Prevention Program. In 2005, a heat illness prevention regulation was added requiring outdoor employers to provide training, water and shade as well as an emergency response system.
The penalties for not heeding the regulations range from $100 to $75,000, depending on the nature of the violation, according to Dean Fryer, deputy director of communications in the Department of Industrial Relations.
"If we find an employer who has not trained employees and is not providing water and shade -- that could jeopardize the safety of the employee, so the penalty could be much harder," Fryer said.
One of the stiffest penalties is a "willful citation," which is given to employers who were aware of the hazard but failed to act anyway. Schwarzenegger recently said his administration would increase its efforts to ensure compliance with the program's regulations.
"Employers or labor contractors who do not comply with the heat illness prevention standards," he said, "will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
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California employers are required to take these four steps to prevent heat illness.
Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention.
Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least 1 quart per hour and encourage them to do so.
Provide access to shade for at least 5 minutes of rest when an employee believes he or she needs a preventive recovery period. They should not wait until they feel sick to do so.
Develop and implement written procedures for complying with Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard.