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July 17, 2019
House bill would mandate federal heat regulation

OSHA would have to establish a federal heat stress standard if a bill just introduced in Congress becomes law. The bill, introduced July 10, would require the agency to issue a proposed standard within 2 years and a final regulation within 42 months.

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The bill would require OSHA to establish a heat exposure standard that would:

  • Be at least as effective as the most stringent state standard;
  • Consider recommendations for a standard published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 2016; and
  • Include requirements that employers protect employees from heat-related illness by providing hydration, scheduled and paid rest breaks in shaded or climate-controlled environments, an acclimatization plan, training, monitoring, surveillance, and recordkeeping, as well as emergency response in cases of heat illnesses.

If the agency cannot complete a proposed standard within 2 years, it would have to issue an interim standard within 2 years and 60 days of the bill’s enactment.

The standard would cover both indoor and outdoor exposures. California’s Heat Illness Prevention standard only covers outdoor exposures; but a standard for indoor exposures is working its way through the state’s rulemaking process. A Minnesota regulation covers worker exposure to both hot and cold conditions during indoor or outdoor work.

The bill that was introduced by Rep. Judy Chu, (D-CA) and 27 cosponsors, the “Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act” (H.R. 3668), was named for a worker who died from heatstroke after working for 10 hours straight in 105-degree Fahrenheit temperatures.

Climate change cited

Chu cited climate change as one of her reasons for introducing the bill.

“According to a 2015 study by OSHA, exposure to heat led to 37 work-related deaths and 2,830 nonfatal occupation injuries and illnesses. And it’s only expected to get worse. A new report released last week found that rising temperatures from global warming could cost the global economy as much as $69 trillion by 2100, thanks in part to the impact on workers’ health,” Chu said in a statement.

Employers would be required to set up initial and repeated monitoring for excessive heat exposures under the standard outlined in Chu’s bill.

Employers would have to develop a written heat exposure plan. Requirements for the plan include:

  • Participation of employees or their union representatives in the plan’s development;
  • Versions of the plan in both English and the language understood by the majority of employees;
  • Provision of water and paid rest breaks in shaded or climate-controlled environments; and
  • Acclimatization periods, administrative or engineering controls, emergency response, and personal protective equipment if administrative and engineering controls are inadequate.

The bill also would require OSHA to establish education, training, and recordkeeping requirements in the heat exposure standard. The standard also would include whistleblower protections for employees reporting violations of the standard.

Repeated calls for a federal standard

Public interest groups and federal officials outside of OSHA have called for a federal heat stress or heat illness prevention standard. Calls for a standard have included the following:

  • NIOSH first developed a formal recommendation for a standard shortly after the institute and OSHA were formed by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act);
  • NIOSH revised its criteria document for a recommended standard in 1986 and again in 2016;
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission earlier this year vacated an OSHA citation issued under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause, criticizing the agency’s heat stress enforcement policy and recommending the agency establish a standard to give employers clear guidance for compliance; and
  • Public Citizen and a coalition of labor union and other groups petitioned the agency for a standard in 2011 and 2018.
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