If you’ve ever been in a fast food kitchen, you know that they’re hot. The air surrounding heat lamps, stove tops, open ovens, and fryers swirls together like a thick soup, often making it hard to catch a breath. These conditions can get very, very dangerous. During (increasingly frequent) heatwaves, fast food locations in California have been accused by workers of having ambient temperatures of as high as 109 degrees. Not only is the risk of occupational injury higher in hot temperatures; heat exposure alone can cause illness, cardiac and respiratory disease, strokes, and death.
In the over 50 years since the creation of OSHA, no rules have been created regarding maximum acceptable temperatures for indoor workers, and recommendations are subjective, at best. This oversight unnecessarily jeopardizes the lives and safety of all workers, but especially those working in fast food kitchens. Climate change is expected to rapidly change–and worsen–this danger. California has attempted to address heat safety concerns by drafting indoor temperature standards for Cal/OSHA to implement. The creation of clear standards has been a work in progress since 2017, and still nothing has been approved.
With OSHA neglecting to address the problem, and Cal/OSHA’s potential remedy in limbo for years on end, fast food workers of California are excited about the potential created by the FAST Recovery Act. This Act allows for the creation of councils of affected people, including fast food workers (both unionized and not unionized), employers, and state representatives, which can come together to write recommendations for Cal/OSHA. Their recommendations must be considered and responded to within a period of six months. This comparatively short turnaround time can account for the dynamic heat safety needs of fast food workers in an uncertain climate future.
The councils will also be able to address a variety of other safety concerns that plague the fast food industry. Sexual harassment and customer violence are additional priorities for workers, who are often subject to avoidable violence at the hands of the people they serve. There are ways that customer violence can be reduced. Right now, poor architectural design within restaurants, coupled with inconsistent training regarding the refusal of service, makes harassment too easy for customers. Workers will, with the implementation of the council, be able to voice their concerns, and suggest solutions that they know, through experience, will work. This ability for California workers, even those that are not-yet-unionized, to have such a strong voice in the creation of safety standards is a huge victory.