New Year & New California Safety Laws

So the first working day of 2011 sees California introduce a new set of workplace safety laws. The state’s worker safety agency – Cal/OSHA – will now find it easier to investigate safety violations that occur in California workplaces following a revision to its labor code laws.

Susan Kemp, a labor law attorney for the California Chamber of Commerce, describes how the new laws will work.

She says the boost to Cal/OSHA’s enforcement powers applies mainly to businesses that own and operate heavy equipment. “Any type of machinery that involves anything that can pinch you, push you, cut you, smush body parts, anything with the height that you can fall, tunneling, people in ditches where there’s a cave-in, those kinds of things,” Kemp said.

Cal/OSHA will enforce a new safety standard this year to prevent farm workers from getting sick from the heat. Farm and orchard managers now have to provide each worker with a quart of water an hour – and five minutes of rest in the shade if the employee asks for it.

Susan Kemp says the new law also requires employers to train managers on how enforce the new regulation. Kemp explains, “The employer has to monitor the weather and make arrangements in advance, and supervisors and managers have to be trained to do that as well.”

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The new laws in detail include:

New Off- Duty Meal Break Exemptions

AB 569 provides greater legal clarity to Labor Code section 512(a) which requires employers to provide their employees, who work more than six hours in a day, one 30-minute off-duty meal break after five hours of work. The new law adds section 512.7 to the Labor Code and will exempt from the off-duty meal break requirement workers in specific industries who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement that contains meal period provisions. The employee groups include: construction workers, commercial drivers, security officers and employees of electrical and gas corporations or local publicly-owned electric utilities. These are industries or positions where it was deemed an off-duty meal break can be impractical. The revision was made to better meet the requirements of the particular positions. The bill was introduced by Assembly Member Bill Emmerson (R-Hemet).

Workers’ Compensation Extended Eligibility for Public Service Workers

AB 2253 expands workers’ compensation eligibility for firefighters and law enforcement officers who have developed certain types of cancer that are reasonably linked to their jobs. Existing law establishes that this presumption be extended for a period of three months for each full year of service the employee worked, not to exceed 60 months beyond their last day of service. The pending legislation will expand that time frame to up to 120 months and will amend Labor Code section 3212.1. The bill was introduced by Assembly Member Joe Coto (D-San Jose).

Organ / Bone Marrow Donors’ Leave and Benefits for Employees of Private Employers

SB 1304 requires private employers to permit employees to take paid leaves of absence for organ and bone marrow donation, similar to provisions existing for California state employees. Under the new law, private employers are prohibited from interfering with employees taking organ or bone marrow donation leave and after the conclusion of the leave of absence must allow them to return to the same job or an equivalent job. The bill, introduced by Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), further prohibits retaliation of the employee for taking the leave and provides employees to seek restitution if these rights are violated.

New Procedures Established and Definition Clarified for Cal/OSHA Serious Citations

California employers are legally bound to provide employees a safe workplace. California law has authorized DIR’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, to enforce applicable safety and health regulations and issue citations when investigations reveal that an employer has committed violations of those standards, including serious violations that cause an employee to suffer or potentially suffer, among other things, “serious injury or illness” or “serious physical harm.” AB 2774, introduced by Assembly member Sandre R. Swanson (D-Alameda), amends labor code section 6432 to define serious physical harm and establishes a rebuttable presumption as to when an employer commits a serious violation of these provisions. The bill further establishes new procedures and standards for an investigation when issuing serious citations.

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Learn more at the California DIR.