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People Are Asking:

What is OSHA's new Heat Plan?


Surprisingly, OSHA really hasn’t created any new workplace “rules” to manage the new heat levels experienced world-wide this summer – though they are offering suggestions and guidelines. Many states do have their own OSHA-approved heat rules (or lack thereof, as in the case of Texas).

After Googling that question, it was immediately apparent that the heat is foremost in most people’s mind. Here are the first questions (and results) returned:

How hot is too hot for OSHA?
From the National Association of Letter Carriers website:

“Strenuous work tasks and those requiring the use of heavy or non-breathable clothing or impermeable chemical protective clothing should not be conducted when the heat index is at or above 115°F.”! (Exclamation point ours.)

Are we required to keep the workplace a certain temperature? 

There is no requirement for employers to maintain a certain workplace temperature under federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, nor are there specific OSHA standards for occupational heat exposure. However, under the General Duty Clause, section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”

What is the new heat rule for OSHA?
The first answer returned referred to California’s OSHA-approved state law. The second answer was not a rule, but merely a recommendation:
OSHA and NIOSH recommend the “Rule of 20 percent for building heat tolerance: 20 percent first Day: New workers should work only 20 percent of the normal duration on their first day.

What is the hottest temperature OSHA allows you to work in?
An environmental heat assessment should account for all of these factors. OSHA recommends the use of wet bulb globe temperature to monitor to measure workplace environmental heat. The Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) is a measure of the heat stress in direct sunlight, which takes into account: temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover. Again, see guidelines from OSHA, they have plenty on their website:

Effective WBGT (°C)Unacclimatized workersAcclimatized workers
Below 70°F (21°C)Low risk of heat-related illnessLow risk of heat-related illness
70 to 77°F(21 to 25°C)Strenuous work possibly unsafeLow risk of heat-related illness
Above 77°F (25°C)High risk of heat-related illness with strenuous workStrenuous work possibly unsafe

At what temperature can you refuse to work in the US? How long can you work in 100 degree weather? Can I leave a workplace because it’s too hot?

(It’s ordinarily illegal for your boss to retaliate against you for doing this.) Again, while there are no specific federal regulations about working in extreme cold or heat, you do have a right to a workplace “free from recognized hazards .” That includes exposure to extreme cold and heat.

Is no air conditioning an OSHA violation?

OSHA considers office temperature and humidity to be a matter of personal comfort rather than hazards that can cause serious injury or death. The General Duty Clause does not apply for personal comfort cases where health or safety is not at risk.

Why You Should Have A Workplace Temperature Safety Program Already In Place

No OSHA Rules for temperature requirements in the workplaceIn the same way that a well-managed business keeps an inventory of protective equipment and safety measures in place for workin extreme cold (heavy duty gloves, masks, insulated clothing and footwear, etc.), it would do well to be prepared now for the severe heat as a new and frequent threat. Your employees’ safety should be your first consideration. 

Therefore it should go without saying that an employer who obviously cares about the welfare of its workers will also want to ensure their comfort and safety when temperatures climb, which can directly affect employees’ attitude toward the company. Happy, healthy workers are proven to be more productive, which may also translate to a better bottom line. 

It is an interesting thought that failure to provide a certain safe level of weather comfort for our pets, lack of which can cause them to be confiscated by animal control, is rarely considered compulsory for our own workers:

  • Have fans, pop-up cooling tents, misting devices, and cool water available at all times. .
  • Have employees trained to recognize heat stress illness in themselves and their co-workers.
  • Train workers how to provide first aid for those suffering from heat illness or heat stroke and how/whom to contact (call 911).
  • Reschedule work times to cooler times of day or night.
  • Make sure the air conditioners are in working condition in all vehicles, trailers and buildings.
  • Make sure employees take frequent breaks in a cool location, and hydrate constantly. 

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  • OSHA’s maximum penalties for serious violations range from $14,502 per violation to $15,625 per violation.
  • The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations ranges from $145,027 per violation to $156,259 per violation.
SRA can negotiate with OSHA on your behalf to have fines reduced or tossed out. Call Ed Boulanger, Principal Consultant, today at (804) 310-6396. We’re here to help.

When Dealing With OSHA, It Never Hurts To Show Them Your Safety Plan.


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