OSHA proposes rule to protect workers from extreme heat

By Staff
4 Min Read

Dive Brief:

  • The Department of Labor released a proposed rule Tuesday designed to protect millions of indoor and outdoor workers in the U.S. from extreme heat
  • The proposed rule would require employers to develop a Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Plan to control and mitigate hazards in workplaces impacted by excessive heat. The standard would require employers to evaluate heat risks and, when necessary, provide drinking water, rest breaks and control of indoor heat. It also would require plans for workers accustomed to working in high heat.
  • Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will get to submit written comments. OSHA also said it anticipates a public hearing on the rule after the close of the written comment period.

Dive Insight: 

OSHA has had a National Emphasis Program on heat safety since April 2022, but the proposed rule would be an enforceable guideline, as opposed to general suggestions — such as the credo “water, rest, shade” — for helping protect workers from heat illness and injury. This April, the standard cleared a hurdle when the OSHA Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health unanimously recommended the agency “move forward expeditiously” on a notice of proposed rulemaking.

Under the proposed rule, the Heat Injury and Illness Plan must address how a company will adequately monitor the environment to determine if high heat becomes hazardous for work, using a measure such as heat index or wet bulb globe temperature.

The rule states that when the temperature reaches at or above one of those high heat triggers, employers must provide suitable protections. For example, if sufficiently hot, employers would have to provide access to at least one quart per employee per hour of accessible potable, suitably cool drinking water.

In addition, the proposed rule stipulates requirements for breaks in locations with natural or artificial shade or air conditioning, if in an enclosed space, and has specific outlines for break areas for indoor or outdoor work environments.

The rule also provides guidance for personal protective equipment, what time constitutes a break and acclimatization requirements for workers not accustomed to the heat. 

“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,” said Douglas Parker, assistant secretary for occupational safety and health. “Today’s 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.”

Leaders of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health praised the proposal as a “critical step” to protect workers as climate change fuels hotter weather around the country.

“This rule provides a clear framework for promoting a culture of safety and responsibility,” Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of National COSH, said in a statement shared with Construction Dive.

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