Recap of SB 321 Advisory Committee Guidelines
by Karin Umfrey
Domestic workers and day laborers in California have been battling Governor Newsom to remove the exclusion of household domestic services that keeps these workers from receiving the same fundamental health and safety protections as other workers in the state.
When the bill to remove the exclusion, SB 1257, passed the house and senate in 2020, Newsom vetoed it. The campaign continued in 2021, and again, his administration indicated its intent to veto the bill, at which point, the bill’s advocates decided to pivot to SB 321, a bill mandating that Cal/OSHA convene an advisory committee composed of domestic workers, day laborers, and academic OSH institutions to create voluntary guidelines to protect the health and safety of domestic workers and day laborers.
SB 321 was signed by Governor Newsom in 2022, and the advisory committee met, created the guidelines, and published them in January 2023.
This blog highlights a selection of these guidelines. To see the full guidelines, click here.
There are two main sections to the document: preventative steps, and general measures to protect workers in private employment.
Prevention includes setting expectations on job duties, hours and pay, and putting them in writing. It also underlines the importance of ensuring that both employer and employee review and understand the workers’ rights. Employers should also identify, evaluate, and control hazards to prevent the injuries and illnesses that occur in the workplace. Workers should receive training on health and safety in a language they understand prior to working. Employers should also have a plan to address emergencies that can exist in the workplace like earthquakes, wildfires, chemical spills, workplace violence and heat illnesses. Finally, for prevention, employees should have access to bathrooms and washing facilities.
Common hazards and guidelines to protect workers
This is a very quick summary of some of the key recommendations, which cover areas ranging from workplace violence, heat and wildfire smoke to working from heights and ladder safety and electrical hazards. All recommendations include provided trainings, and some also include related PPE. Please visit the published guidelines to get the full recommendations by the advisory committee.
Cleaning or disinfectant chemicals may have short term or long term effects on one’s health. The voluntary guidelines recommend eliminating or reducing the hazard, for example, providing environmentally preferable cleaning products. They also suggest keeping a list of products and their labels, and reviewing the warnings and first aid information with the workers.
If the hazard cannot be eliminated, according to the guidelines, employees should also utilize engineering controls like fans, ventilation, and air filters to reduce chemical exposure, and finally, suitable personal protective equipment that properly fits the employee should be provided and utilized.
2. Musculoskeletal hazards: lifting, bending, repetitive motion and others
Musculoskeletal hazards are potential injuries that can happen to muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, joints, cartilage, bones, or blood vessels in the arms, shoulders, neck and back.
The guidelines have a list of risks for the employer to review with the worker that can help identify some of those hazards in the workplace.
The guidelines recommend that tasks given to the workers should be varied to avoid repetitive work, periods of rest should be observed, loads should be lightened, and tools and equipment provided to reduce the need for reaching, bending, or using too much force.
3. Lifting and moving adults or children while caregiving
Lifting adults or children can create a high risk for back injury and other musculoskeletal injuries. The guidelines recommend lifting assistance devices and an assessment to determine the correct equipment.
4. Slips, trips, and falls
Hazards that lead to slips, trips, and falls can cause bruises, sprains, and broken bones. The guidelines recommend walking through work spaces to identify and where possible, address hazards that could cause falls, like cords, curled or wrinkled rugs, mats, or carpets, oxygen tubing and other objects that block the worker’s path; like clutter, bedding and toys, and slippery floors.
Stress can be a physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension. Stress occurs when the mind and the body are overloaded with pressure and worry. Causes of job-related stress can include many issues, such as long hours, job insecurity, workload and pace, poor communication with the employer, harassment or bullying, insufficient breaks or hours, unpredictability of work, unsafe conditions, and more.
The guidelines recommend that employers check in regularly to assess whether the work plan is working well for both the employee and employer as a standard part of addressing and preventing hazards in the workplace.