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| 2 minutes read

No Chill? OSHA Advances Proposed Standard on Heat Injury, Illness Prevention

While most of the country has been under a record-breaking heat wave, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has continued to advance its proposed standard for heat injury and illness prevention – giving employers yet another reason to sweat. 

The agency, which has been working on a heat stress standard since President Biden took office in 2021, submitted its proposal to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review on June 11. While OIRA has no timeline in which to complete its review, once completed, OSHA will publish the proposed standard for public comment and final rulemaking, which could see the enactment of a final rule by mid-2025. 

OSHA has long tackled heat related injury and illness under the general duty clause, issuing technical guidance regarding heat stress prevention in 2016 and adopting a similar National Emphasis Program in 2022 as it has continued to focus in on heat stress as a major enforcement priority. A dedicated standard, however, would explicitly identify the hazard when conditions have reached unsafe levels of heat exposure and provide clear parameters to mitigate the risks that heat stress poses for employees. 

This would not only clearly define the existence of such unsafe working conditions, but also delineate enforceable violations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

While the standard has not been made publicly available, drawing from its previous guidance, OSHA says it is likely to include provisions concerning:

  • When the standard applies, such as at a certain temperature –potentially as low as 80 degrees F –triggering protection and mitigation efforts 
  • How temperature measurements should be taken
  • Acclimatization requirements that call for employers to gradually expose employees to high temperatures
  • Mandatory rest and water breaks to be required when temperatures have met the high heat threshold
  • Written programs and training mandating employers adopt each to prevent and address heat-related injuries and illness

OSHA's proposed rulemaking comes as other jurisdictions consider similar requirements. Joining Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington, California adopted a similar rule for indoor workers earlier this month. And, in March, Phoenix’s City Council also adopted similar heat protection requirements for city contractors.

In Florida, however, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed House Bill 433 into law that preempts cities and counties from adopting heat stress prevention requirements, joining Texas in barring local governments from adopting such measures. Regardless of local action, if OSHA adopts its own standard, these requirements must be adhered to by employers as enforced by state agencies in state plan states which are required to have matching standards, and by OSHA in the remaining jurisdictions.

Relief is in sight for many as temperatures begin to break across the country. However, for employers, it's going to continue to be a hot one as this new OSHA standard advances in the rulemaking process. Even without a dedicated standard, OSHA is still enforcing the general duty clause against employers for heat stress injuries. As such, employers should be sure to evaluate heat-related risks and the steps that may be taken to avoid employee injury and illness in line with OSHA's current guidance. 

In addition to these current requirements, employers need to be mindful of these new developments at the federal and local level – or be prepared to get burned. 

Text of the proposal, sent Tuesday to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, hasn’t been made public. But the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration previously said protection mandates could kick in any time the heat index reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit.


labor and employment