A new California bill, SB 1299, aims to create a presumption of compensability for farmworker heat-related injury claims if the employer is found to be in violation of Cal/OSHA’s outdoor heat illness prevention standard.

However, a recent study by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) suggests that the bill would create more problems than it solves, leading to significant administrative challenges and costs while having little impact on the safety of agricultural workers.

SB 1299 would shifts the burden of proof for heat illness claims from the employee to the employer. This means that if an agricultural worker files a claim for a heat-related injury, the employer would be responsible for proving that the injury was not work-related.

The bill also would presume compensability if the employer is found to be out of compliance with Cal/OSHA’s outdoor heat illness prevention standard. This standard, enacted in 2005 and amended in 2015, requires employers to provide access to shade and water, monitor employees who need to acclimatize to heat, provide training, and have a heat illness plan in place. If the temperature exceeds 85 degrees, employers must initiate high heat procedures, and if it crosses 95 degrees, agricultural workers must take a mandatory 10-minute cool-down break every two hours.

Another significant aspect of SB 1299 is that it would shift the determination of violations from the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB). This change could create challenges, as WCAB judges may lack the subject matter expertise to determine violations without citations from Cal/OSHA.

According to the CWCI study, the bill would entail significant administrative friction costs and is unlikely to have an appreciable impact on agricultural worker safety.

The CWCI analysis found that despite a warming climate, there are relatively few agricultural heat illness claims in the California workers’ compensation system. A review of more than 3.2 million claims filed by California workers from 2019 through 2023 revealed that only 659 of the 100,777 claims filed by agricultural workers (0.65%) were due to heat-related illness. This percentage is comparable for other industries covered by the Cal/OSHA high heat standard, such as landscaping (0.65%), construction (0.67%), and mining, oil and gas extraction (0.56%), CWCI found.

The small percentage of claims involving heat illnesses likely reflects the success of Cal/OSHA’s outdoor heat illness prevention standard.

Access the full analysis from CWCI here. &

The post California Bill Targets Farmworker Heat Illness Claims appeared first on Risk & Insurance.