Several new laws affect workplace safety, including a package of bills that took effect June 9, 2016.
AB 1785 reaffirms the general ban on using wireless electronic devices while driving, but amends existing law to authorize drivers to use their hand to activate or deactivate a feature or function of the device with a single swipe or tap, as long as the device is mounted so as not to hinder the driver’s view of the road.
Despite the steady expansion of legislative prohibitions on the use of wireless telephones and electronic wireless communications devices while driving, and the clear dangers of distracted driving, in 2014, the California Court of Appeals for the 5th District ruled that the existing ban only prohibits a driver from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it. In making its ruling, the court found that the legislative intent in enacting those prohibitions was merely focused on prohibiting a wireless telephone only while carrying on a conversation, not while using it for any other purpose. For that reason, law enforcement agencies find it difficult, if not practicably impossible to enforce the prohibition, as the scope of a mobile device’s functions and its contributions to distracted driving go far beyond simply making and receiving telephone calls.
The new law bans all handheld use of wireless electronic communication devices by the driver of a vehicle during its operation, without reference to the purpose of that use. An exception is provided for windshield-, dashboard-, and center console-mounted devices when the driver can activate or deactivate the feature or function he or she is using with a single swipe or tap and the placement of the mounted device does not hinder the driver’s view of the road. As such, drivers can still engage with their phones in the relatively simple ways that are most similar to other sources of distraction that society has long accepted, such as changing the channel on a car radio.
Specifically AB 7 removes many (but not all) exemptions in existing law that allow tobacco smoking in certain indoor workplaces and expands the prohibition on smoking in a place of employment to include owner-operated businesses. It establishes “smoke-free laws,” which prohibit the smoking of tobacco products in various places, including, but not limited to, school campuses, public buildings, places of employment, apartment buildings, day care facilities, retail food facilities, health facilities, and vehicles when minors are present.
AB 7 prohibits employers from knowingly or intentionally permitting the smoking of tobacco products in an enclosed space at a place of employment. It defines “enclosed space” as including lobbies, lounges, waiting areas, elevators, stairwells, and restrooms that are a structural part of the building and not specifically exempt. It extends the workplace smoking prohibition to include owner-operated businesses in which the owner-operator is the only worker and there are no employees, independent contractors, or volunteers. There are no exemptions for employers of any size.
SB 1167 requires Cal/OSHA to propose a heat-illness and injury prevention standard for indoor workers by Jan. 1, 2019. SB 1167 does not specify what provisions will be included in the new rule or what types of workplaces will be covered – potentially, the new rule could include all indoor workplaces. The law is a result of litigation on this issue.
A recent Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (Appeals Board) decision affirms the responsibility of employers to ensure indoor heat illness is addressed through their IIPP. The case stemmed from a 2012 serious citation issued to Tri-State Staffing and warehouse operator National Distribution Center for the heat illness suffered by an employee who was working inside a metal freight container with a temperature of over 100 degrees. DOSH penalized both companies for failing to implement an effective IIPP and both companies appealed the citation winning their case before an administrative law judge (ALJ).
In March 2015, DOSH appealed that decision to the Appeals Board stating that the employers had failed to effectively correct the indoor hazard and had not trained employees on indoor heat exposure. In November 2015, the ALJ’s decision was overturned by the Appeals Board reinforcing the responsibility that employers have to protect the health and safety of their workers, including those working indoors.