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OSHA’s Proposed Heat Standard Headed for Public Scrutiny

Heat exposure at workplace
  • Published
  • 3 July 2024
  • Category
  • General

As anticipated, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released its proposed workplace heat standard on July 2, 2024. A public comment period will start when it is published in the Federal Register. (The publication date is pending.)

If enacted, the standard is expected to substantially decrease the risk of heat-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities for about 36 million U.S. employees. Exposure to heat and humidity can cause symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening. (Refer to our latest fact sheet on Heat Intolerance and Other Medication Side Effects for recommended preventive measures.)

Record-breaking temperatures occurring across the nation have increased outdoor exposure risk. The standard would also apply to certain indoor environments.

“Workers all over the country are passing out, suffering heat stroke and dying from heat exposure from just doing their jobs, and something must be done to protect them,” Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker said when announcing the proposed rulemaking. “This proposal is an important next step in the process to receive public input to craft a ‘win-win’ final rule that protects workers while being practical and workable for employers.”

The proposed rule would require employers to develop a comprehensive heat-related injury and illness prevention plan that includes:

  • Methods for heat exposure risk assessments
  • Policies for adequate hydration and rest breaks
  • Measures to control indoor heat
  • Acclimatization periods for new/returning employees
  • Training on heat illness prevention, signs and symptoms
  • Procedures for emergency and first-aid response

Related Actions

While the proposed rule undergoes public scrutiny, OSHA said it will continue to hold businesses accountable for heat-related violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty clause, 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1) and other applicable regulations. The agency also conducts heat-related inspections under its National Emphasis Program – Outdoor and Indoor Heat-Related Hazards, which targets workplaces with high heat exposure risks. In addition, the agency is prioritizing programmed inspections in agricultural industries that employ temporary, nonimmigrant H-2A workers for seasonal labor.

California, Colorado Minnesota, Oregon and Washington have adopted their own workplace standards to help prevent heat illness. In Florida and Texas, local governments are not required to provide heat-related protections for outdoor workers.

In conjunction with the release of the proposed OSHA standard, the Biden Administration announced actions being taken to help protect workers and communities from extreme weather threats. For example:

  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency will award nearly $1 billion dollars for 656 projects to help American communities protect against disasters and natural hazards, including extreme heat, storms and flooding.
  • State, local, tribal and territorial leaders will be convened for a White House Summit on extreme heat. U.S. representatives will also meet with global stakeholders to advance heat-related resilience efforts for U.S. workers abroad.
  • A wildfire crisis response plan that involves a $7 billion investment is being used to expand the wildland firefighter workforce, deploy advanced technology to better respond to fires and complete 6.85 million acres of hazardous fuels treatments.

WorkCare’s occupational health clinicians and subject matter experts are available to consult on workplace heat hazard reduction strategies. Our clients include industries with extreme heat and overexertion exposure risks, including construction, utilities, oil and gas production, heavy manufacturing and mining. Contact us to learn more.