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Cal/OSHA Appeals Board Clarifies Meaning of as Close as Practicable for Providing Drinking Water to Outdoor Employees

Erica Rosasco, Rosasco Law Group

March 2023

For agricultural employers, the latest decision from the Department of Industrial Relations’ Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (OSHAB) is indeed noteworthy.

We now know that potable water must be provided to outdoor employees in a location that is as close as practicable to promote frequent intake, especially during the hot summer days. In addition, we now have a clear definition of this phrase.

It all began with a complaint against a St. Helena vineyard in 2018, where Cal/OSHA inspectors discovered that employees had to climb through several grape trellises to reach the water supply.

Cal/OSHA cited the farming company for failing to have water as close as practicable for the employees. After a failed appeal last year, the administrative law judge fined the company $27,000.

On Feb. 6, OSHAB clarified the meaning of as close as practicable when it comes to making drinking water available for employees to prevent heat illness. According to a recent Cal/OSHA press release:

[T]he water must be as close as reasonably can be accomplished in order to encourage frequent water consumption. … [T]he trellises were an obstacle that discouraged employees from frequently drinking water. … [O]ther reasonable options were available to the employer, such as providing a jug of water in each row where the employees were working or providing individual water bottles that employees could carry with them and refill from the jugs.

A Cal/OSHA representative heralded the decision as providing 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. … Staying adequately hydrated is essential to preventing heat illness, particularly during the hot summer months.

Agricultural employers must keep in mind the guidance above to ensure their employees stay safe. If you have any related heat illness prevention questions or just employment/labor law questions in general, contact Rosasco Law Group for assistance.

Erica Rosasco is the owner and principal attorney at Rosasco Law Group in Rocklin, which can be reached at 916-672-6552.

Disclaimer: This information does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, it is for general information purposes only. This information might not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. You should always consult an experienced attorney if you have any questions about your business, policies, or your particular circumstances.