OSHA Heat Standard- Is There a Legitimate Need?

Let’s talk about heat. Excessive heat exposure is a growing issue that has killed 783 U.S. workers and injured over 70,000 workers since 1992. As of now, OSHA does not have a standard in place to protect workers from heat exposure.

OSHA has advised employers to use good reason and recommends keeping workplace temperatures between 68-76 degrees. 25 states have enacted their own Heat plans. Some feel OSHA’s approach is not enough and the lack of a clear Heat plan regulation leaves many at risk.

The lack of a Standard creates inconsistencies across the states and makes it harder for the employer to protect their workers and the public from heat-related illness.

In times of extreme temperatures, such as the recent heat waves this summer and the seemingly incessant humidity in the Northeast, it becomes more of an issue for workers. Obviously, heat illnesses increase rapidly in the hotter and more humid weather.

If warnings are issued to protect the young and old it would seem likely that workers exposed to the same temperatures or higher would be facing the same dangers.  Dehydration, Heat Stroke, and Heat Exhaustion can happen quicker than most realize. Without Heat plans, drinking water and cooling break areas, many workers suffer especially if they are not trained on the dangers and warning signs of heat illnesses.

Recently there was a formal petition to OSHA regarding the lack of a heat standard to protect against heat stress. This petition was part of a national campaign led by advocacy groups for worker protection.  They want OSHA to “mandate rest breaks, access to water, heat acclimatization plans, worker training, and shaded or air-conditioned areas” (Safety + Health). California, Minnesota, Washington, and the U.S. Military are the only formally mandated entities for occupational heat stress.

If the numerous recommendations for employers and workers to follow are mandated, we may improve heat stress management and prevention. An essential key component of prevention would be training and awareness.

As the summer comes to a close, the heat and humidity will lower, but this does not account for enclosed hot work environments-some routinely over 100 degrees without climate! Heat temps and length of exposure are job specific and heat tolerance can be different for each person.

Learn the best methods to manage heat exposure risk, recognize when someone is in trouble, and develop a plan to maximize productivity while remaining safe in high heat situations. PTP can help revise your current safety plans to incorporate heat protection for workers, and to advise on the best protocols to implement based on your individual worksite. While the debate to regulate or not rages on, the risk factors to loss of life, injury, and potential costs can be mitigated by getting ahead and forming your own plan.


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