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A bill that would give a presumption of compensability to farmworker heat-related injury claims if the employer is found to be out of compliance with Cal/OSHA’s outdoor heat illness prevention standard would likely create more challenges than it would solve, entail significant administrative friction costs, and is unlikely to have an appreciable impact on agricultural worker safety according to a California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) study.

CWCI’s analysis of SB 1299 (Cortese), examines the population of agricultural workers covered by the legislation, measures the percentage of workers’ compensation claims filed by agricultural workers that involve heat-related injuries, and compares the percentage of heat-related claims in the agriculture sector to the percentage for non-agricultural workers covered by the high-heat procedures in the Cal/OSHA Outdoor Heat Illness Prevention Standard. In addition, the analysis considers the impact of the legislation on the California workers’ compensation system.

Among the findings:

– – Despite global warming and climate change, there are very few agricultural heat illness claims in California workers’ compensation. CWCI’s review of more than 3.2 million claims filed by California workers from 2019 through 2023 found that only 659 of the 100,777 claims filed by agricultural workers (0.65%) were due to heat-related illness. That proportion was comparable to 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%).

– – The small percentage of claims involving heat illnesses likely reflects the success of Cal/OSHA’s outdoor heat illness prevention standard, enacted in 2005 and amended in 2015. The standard requires, among other things, access to shade and water, active monitoring of employees who need to acclimatize to heat, supervisor and employee training, and a heat illness plan. In addition, it requires employers to initiate high heat procedures if the temperature exceeds 85 degrees, and if the temperature crosses 95 degrees, agricultural workers must take a mandatory 10-minute cool-down break every two hours. Employers also must inform their workers that they may exercise their rights under the standard without fear of retaliation and advise them of acclimatization procedures and appropriate first aid and emergency responses to heat illness.

– – While several studies have found that increases in temperature lead to increases in injuries overall, a recent UCLA study that focused on California exclusively found that this phenomenon largely ceased following implementation of the Cal/OSHA Outdoor Heat Illness Prevention Standard in 2005.

– – Outdoor agricultural workers have a workers’ compensation claim denial rate of 11.0%, which is lower than the 12.4% to 13.3% denial rates for other outdoor occupations covered by the Cal/OSHA outdoor heat standard, and lower than the 14.7% denial rate for all claims.

– – The presumption created by SB 1299 would shift the initial determination of whether a Cal/OSHA heat injury illness standard violation occurred from the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB). Given the lack of subject matter expertise on the part of WCAB judges, and the challenge of determining violations without citations from Cal/OSHA, the administrative burden and frictional costs of SB 1299 would be significant.

Workers’ compensation presumptions shift the burden of proof that a claim is work-related from the employee to the employer. Because they represent an exception to the grand bargain of workers’ compensation, they have historically been limited to police and firefighters for specific injuries such as cancer or heart disease that that may arise from the unique risks inherent in their public service jobs, and even then, only when there is clear and compelling evidence of a lack of hazard abatement, a high incidence of injury, and a high denial rate. In the case of SB 1299, which would open the door to private sector presumptions, CWCI’s analysis indicates such evidence is lacking. The Institute has issued its analysis as an Impact Analysis report that is available for free under the Research tab at