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New OSHA Rule on Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Proposed

By Sonal Shah, JD, Assistant Director, Employment Law Services 
Published July 9, 2024

construction worker, sitting outside in bright, glaring sun, drinking bottle of waterHeat is the leading cause of death among weather-related phenomena in the United States. Excessive heat exacerbates existing health conditions such as asthma, kidney failure, and heart disease, and can lead to heat stroke and even death if not treated properly and promptly. To address this issue, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has been in the process of developing a rule titled “Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings.” OSHA felt this was necessary to clearly set forth employer obligations and the measures necessary to effectively protect employees from hazardous heat. OSHA stated that its goal is to prevent and reduce the number of occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities caused by exposure to hazardous heat. OSHA sent the proposed (but unpublished) rule to the Office of Management and Budget for an interagency review of up to 90 days. Once that is completed, we can expect OSHA to publish the final rule in the Federal Register.

While the proposed final rule has not been made publicly available, the framework that OSHA proposed in 2023 offers insight on what we can expect. Under that proposal, employers with more than 10 employees in the General Industry, Construction, Maritime, and Agriculture sectors where OSHA has jurisdiction would be required to create and maintain a written Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Program (HIPP). Employers would also have to monitor weather conditions to determine when there is a heat hazard and take certain measures to protect employees when that occurs. 

In addition, employers with outdoor sites would need to provide cool-down areas with fans, shade, and/or mechanical ventilation or air-conditioned spaces that employees can use for breaks. Regarding indoor worksites, employers would be required to have cool-down areas, increased airflow, and ventilation requirements around fixed heat-generated sources. OSHA would also require employer-provided vehicles or delivery trucks to have air conditioning or other cooling mechanisms to help combat high heat levels for employees who spend their time working in or from vehicles.

Other potential requirements include requiring employers to acclimate new and returning employees to the heat, provide cool water and breaks for water, ensure breaks occur in shaded areas, provide certain personal protective equipment, train employees on heat hazards and how to protect themselves and safely work in the heat, and train supervisors on spotting signs and symptoms of heat illness and how to respond. In addition, employers may be required to develop and use written medical treatment and emergency response plans in case employees experience signs or symptoms of heat stress, illness, or injury. 

Finally, OSHA has proposed that employers maintain records on environmental monitoring data, heat-related illness or injury (including those that only require first aid), and the environmental and work conditions at the time of the illness or injury, and a record of steps taken to acclimate new and returning employees to the heat.

HR Source will keep you updated on developments, including publication of the Final Rule. Once that occurs, employers should be prepared to develop new written plans, train employees and managers, and institute additional safety protocols.

HR Source members with questions can contact us through the HR Hotline Online or at 800-448-4584.

Do you have employees who work in extreme temperatures? Do you have policies in place now regarding protective equipment, breaks, or other methods to assist in these environments? Share your practices with your peers in the All Members Community on HR Exchange.