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June 24, 2024
California adopts indoor heat safety rule

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approved an indoor heat standard on June 20 to protect indoor workers from heat illness, the state Department of Industrial Relations announced June 21.

The state already has an outdoor heat illness prevention standard.

The new regulation requires that?indoor workplaces be cooled to below 87 degrees Fahrenheit, if feasible, when employees are present. Indoor workplaces where employees work in high-radiant heat areas or must wear protective clothing that restricts heat removal must be cooled to below 82 degrees, if feasible. Other requirements will include providing cooldown areas, methods for cooling down the work areas under certain conditions, water, rest, and training.

However, local and state correctional facilities, as well as emergency operations directly involved in protecting life or property, are exempt from the indoor heat regulation.

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is developing an industry-specific regulation for local and state correctional facilities to protect their workers from indoor heat hazards. Cal/OSHA will continue investigating potential indoor heat violations at exempt workplaces under existing regulations such as the injury and illness prevention program standard.

The new standard will apply to most indoor workplaces, including manufacturing facilities, restaurants, and warehouses.

With the board’s approval of “Heat Illness Prevention in Indoor Places of Employment” (California Code of Regulations, Title 8, Section 3396), the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) has 30 working days to review and approve or deny the proposal. The standards board requested that the regulation take effect immediately after OAL approval.

No federal heat standard

There’s no corresponding federal heat illness prevention standard, although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has drafted a proposed heat illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings standard that’s undergoing regulatory review at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) first developed recommendations for a federal standard in 1972. The institute updated its recommendations in 1986 and again in 2016.

OSHA issued an advance notice of proposal rulemaking (ANPRM) in 2021 asking for public input on heat-related issues, including the best metric for defining and assessing heat hazards—ambient temperatures, heat index, or wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT).

The agency also launched an indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards National Emphasis Program (NEP) of inspection and enforcement in April 2022. OSHA cites employers, often after hospitalizations or fatalities, using its authority under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act.

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has regularly vacated OSHA General Duty Clause citations for heat hazards, calling the agency’s use of the clause a “gotcha” or “catchall” for hazards with no established standards.

In 2019, the commission vacated OSHA’s General Duty Clause citation of a roofing contractor following a worker fatality, disputing OSHA’s conclusion that an excessive heat hazard existed at the time of the worker’s collapse.

Last year, the review commission vacated OSHA’s citations of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), concluding that the postal service’s precarious finances made OSHA’s recommended abatement measures economically infeasible.

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