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OSHA Rulemaking on Federal Heat Standard

On July 2, 2024, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on “Heat Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings.” 

The proposed rule would require employers with more than 10 workers to develop and implement a worksite heat injury and illness prevention plan (HIIPP) when workers are or can be expected to be exposed to a heat index of 80 degrees Fahrenheit—referred to as the “initial heat trigger”—or higher. Under the HIIPP, workers exposed to these temperatures would have to be provided access to drinking water and readily accessible break areas. The two types of break areas detailed in the proposed rule are: 

  1. An area with either artificial and/or natural shade that provides blockage of direct sunlight and is open to the outside air. 
  1. An enclosed space (i.e. trailer, vehicle, building structure) that is air conditioned. 

If temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit—referred to as the “high heat trigger”—employers would be required to provide employees a minimum 15-minute paid rest break at least every two hours.  

Employers would also be required to implement acclimatization plans for new or returning employees who haven’t yet adjusted to the heat, such as with gradual increases in workload or 15-minute rest breaks every two hours. 

Notably, the proposed rule also specifies that employers must seek the input and involvement of non-managerial employees and their representatives, if any, in the development and implementation of the HIIPP. 

Under the proposed rule, employers would also be required to monitor heat conditions at outdoor work areas either by tracking local heat index forecasts provided by the National Weather Service or other reputable sources, or measuring the heat index or a wet bulb globe temperature. 

The proposed rule outlines three methods used to observe workers for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness that employers must implement: 

  1. A mandatory buddy system in which co-workers observe one another. 
  1. Observation by a supervisor or heat safety coordinator, with no more than 20 employees observed per supervisor or heat safety coordinator. 
  1. An employer-maintained two-way communication via electronic means (i.e. a handheld receiver, phone or radio) with employees who work alone at worksites at least every two hours. 

Background 

  • OSHA formally began its rulemaking process to develop a federal heat standard in October 2021 when the agency published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requesting public input on the effectiveness of interventions and controls used by employers to prevent heat-related injury and illnesses. 
  • In July 2023, OSHA issued a first-of-its-kind heat hazard alert that emphasized employers’ responsibility to protect workers against heat illness or injury in both outdoor and indoor workplaces.  
  • In November 2023, OSHA concluded a Small Business Advocacy Review for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention (SBREFA) by publishing a report that included several recommendations that would provide employers with greater flexibility, including the ability to tailor HIIPPs based on local climates and the nature of certain activities conducted at a workplace. 

National Club Association Outlook and Considerations 

Currently, OSHA relies on the General Duty Clause to enable the issuance of heat-related citations and bolster its three-year National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat-related hazards. However, the General Duty Clause limits OSHA to imposing penalties against employers only after a worker has died or been injured. 

In August 2023, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling validating OSHA’s legal authority granted by Congress in 1970. The ruling in Allstates Refractory Contractors v. Su specified that OSHA’s legal authority is limited to adopting rules that are “reasonably necessary or appropriate” to address known health risks. Most recently, the Supreme Court declined to weigh in on an appeal by the plaintiff in Allstates.  

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