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July 09, 2024
OSHA proposes indoor, outdoor heat standard

On July 2, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released text of a proposed heat injury and illness prevention standard. The proposed regulation would contain requirements for water, shade, paid breaks, heat acclimatization, and training.

Heat injury and illness prevention requirements would be triggered by a National Weather Service heat index of 80° Fahrenheit (F) or a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature equal to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Recommended Alert Limit (RAL). A “high heat trigger,” or a heat index of 90°F or a wet bulb globe temperature equal to the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL), would trigger additional employer requirements.

Formulas for NIOSH’s RAL and REL appear in the institute’s Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments.

Exemptions from the standard would include:

  • Work for which there’s no reasonable expectation of exposure at or above the initial heat trigger;
  • Short-duration employee exposures at or above the initial heat trigger for 15 minutes or less in any 60-minute period;
  • Emergency response, including emergency medical services, firefighting, technical search and rescue, and workplace emergency response;
  • Work performed in indoor work areas or vehicles in which air conditioning consistently keeps the ambient temperature below 80°F;
  • Remote work; and
  • Sedentary work in indoor areas that involves a combination of sitting, occasional standing, walking for brief periods of time, and occasional lifting of objects weighing less than 10 pounds.

If adopted, the proposed standard would require employers to develop and implement heat injury and illness prevention plans (HIIPPs), seeking the input and involvement of nonmanagerial employees and their representatives. Employers with more than 10 employees would be required to have written plans, and all employers would need to designate one or more heat safety coordinators.

Employers would need to implement plans for monitoring workplace heat conditions. Once heat conditions meet or exceed the initial heat trigger (a heat index of 80°F), employers would be required to provide drinking water and paid breaks (a minimum 15-minute paid rest break at least every 2 hours) in designated break areas. Outdoor worksites would require break areas with artificial (pavilions or tents) or natural shade (trees). Indoor break areas would include air-conditioned break rooms with de-humidification, if appropriate.

Heat acclimatization for new employees would consist of gradually expanding exposure periods over several days—no more than 20% of normal work shift exposure on the first day of work, 40% on the second day, 60% on the third day, and 80% on the fourth day. An acclimatization schedule for employees returning from sick leave or vacation would be restricted to no more than 50% of a normal work shift exposure on the first day, 60% on the second day, and 80% on the third day.

Employers would need to monitor employees for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. Options for monitoring would include a mandatory buddy system or observation by a supervisor or heat safety coordinator. However, a supervisor or heat safety coordinator could observe no more than 20 employees. Employers would also need to maintain effective two-way communication (phone or radio) for employees who are alone at a worksite.

An HIIPP would also need to include emergency response procedures. Training would need to cover heat stress hazards, heat-related injuries and illnesses, risk factors (age, alcohol consumption, clothing, health conditions and medications, and personal protective equipment (PPE) use), signs and symptoms of heat-related injuries and illnesses, and the identity of the heat safety coordinator, as well as requirements of the standard.

In the absence of a standard, OSHA currently cites employers, often following a fatality or hospitalization, using its authority under the General Duty Clause (§5(a)(1)) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has repeatedly vacated OSHA citations and penalties, calling the agency’s General Duty Clause enforcement a “gotcha” or “catch-all” for hazards without established standards.

There are no industry-specific proposals. If adopted as proposed, OSHA’s shipyard employment (29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1915), marine terminals (1917), longshoring (1918), and construction industry (1926) regulations would contain references to the general industry standard in Part 1910.

The agency also posted three additional documents containing the text of the proposals:

OSHA also posted links to the rulemaking’s background, previous actions, Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) report, and rulemaking docket on an agency webpage.

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