The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Tuesday proposed a heat standard that would require employers to develop plans for protecting workers from excessive temperatures such as those sweeping the U.S. this week.

“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,” Assistant Labor Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker said.

“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.”

The standard, which applies to indoor and outdoor workers and has been in the works at OSHA since the beginning of the Biden administration, sets 80°F as the “initial heat trigger” and 90° as the “high heat trigger.” Among the requirements: At 80 degrees, employers would have to ensure their workers have cool drinking water and break areas with cooling measures, according to an OSHA fact sheet.

Specifically, “The employer must provide access to potable water for drinking that is placed in locations readily accessible to the employee; suitably cool, and of sufficient quantity to provide access to 1 quart of drinking water per employee per hour,” the proposal says.

At 90 degrees, employers would have to provide rest breaks of 15 minutes at least every two hours (an unpaid meal break can count as a rest break), and conduct observation for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, OSHA said. 

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All employers would have to “develop and implement a work site heat injury and illness prevention plan (HIIPP) with site-specific information to evaluate and control heat hazards in their workplace,” OSHA said. They also would have to identify heat hazards in both outdoor and indoor work sites. “For outdoor work sites, employers would be required to monitor heat conditions by tracking local heat index forecasts or measuring heat index or wet bulb globe temperature.”

The wet bulb globe temperature is a measure that takes into account “ambient temperature, humidity, radiant heat from sunlight or artificial heat sources, and air movement,” according to the definition in the proposal, which comes with a 120-day comment period.

“Heat is the leading cause of death among all hazardous weather conditions in the United States,” OSHA says on its rulemaking website for the heat standard. 

“Excessive heat in the workplace can cause a number of adverse health effects, including heat stroke and even death, if not treated properly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 479 workers in the U.S. died from exposure to environmental heat from 2011-2022, an average of 40 fatalities per year.”

Also during that time period, “there were 33,890 estimated work-related heat injuries and illnesses that resulted in days away from work. However, these statistics for occupational heat-related illnesses, injuries, and fatalities are likely vast underestimates.”

We will have reaction and more detail on the proposal in this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter.