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CA appeals board clarifies outdoor worksite drinking water requirement

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Photo: OSHA

Sacramento, CA — In California, employers of outdoor workers must provide drinking water “as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working.” 

That’s the conclusion of a precedential decision – intended to provide clarity – issued Feb. 6 by the state's Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board.

The three-member board – part of the California Department of Industrial Relations – said its decision is aimed at preventing heat illness by encouraging frequent water consumption. An example: Employers could provide a jug of water in each row where farm employees are working or offer individual water bottles that workers can carry and refill from the jugs.

In 2018, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health launched a safety inspection at the Rios Farming Co. vineyard in St. Helena, CA, after receiving a complaint. Investigators saw workers having to climb through multiple grape trellises to access drinking water. In 2019, Cal/OSHA cited the company for a repeat-serious violation for not having the water “as close as practicable” to workers.

The employer appealed the decision, but an administrative law judge affirmed the citation this past October, with a modified penalty of $27,000.

The judge found that the grape trellises were an obstacle for workers and discouraged them from frequently drinking water. The state appeals board affirmed that finding in its recent decision. In addition, the judge and the board found that “other reasonable options” were available to the employer.

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