OSHA Working to Develop Heat Standards


At the beginning of the month, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that it had extended the comment period on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings (ANPRM).

The Administration reports that the 30-day extension will give stakeholders more time to review the ANPRM and collect information and data necessary for comment.


Originally published on Oct. 27 in the Federal Register, the rulemaking seeks to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hazardous heat. In addition, the rulemaking also seeks to obtain additional information about the extent and nature of hazardous heat in the workplace and the nature and effectiveness of interventions and controls used to prevent heat-related injury and illness.

“While heat illness is largely preventable and commonly underreported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure, and in some cases, heat exposure can be fatal,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Frederick said in a press release.

“The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings is an important part of our multipronged initiative to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hazardous heat.”

Previously due on Dec. 27, comments on the ANPRM must now be submitted by Jan. 26, 2022.

The ANPRM includes more than 100 questions to help guide stakeholders during the comment period. Specifically, the agency is seeking to receive input on heat-stress thresholds, heat-acclimatization planning and exposure monitoring.

“When submitting comments or recommendations on the issues that are raised in this ANPRM, commenters should explain their rationale and, if possible, provide data and information to support the comments and recommendations,” OSHA instructed on its website.

To submit comments on Docket No. OSHA-2021-0009, OSHA has instructed interested parties to do so electronically at www.regulations.gov, which is the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.

The Federal e-Rulemaking Portal is the only way to submit comments on this ANPRM.

Heat Protection Measures

Prior to publishing the Advance Notice, OSHA had not supplied standards for how workers in indoor and outdoor settings could be protected from exposure to hazardous heat conditions. However, over the last several months, OSHA was reported to initiate multiple efforts to protect workers from heat-related illnesses and deaths while working in hazardously hot indoor and outdoor environments.

A month before publishing the ANPRM, OSHA also instituted a heat-related enforcement initiative and announced additional plans to issue a National Emphasis Program for heat-related safety efforts in 2022.

The newly established initiative prioritizes heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80 F. The program is also slated to target high-risk industries and focus agency resources and staff time on heat inspections and will be built upon the existing Regional Emphasis Program for Heat Illnesses in OSHA's Region VI, which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

The announcement followed a statement released by President Joe Biden earlier that month on mobilizing the Administration to address extreme heat. The measure is part of the Biden-Harris administration's interagency effort and commitment to workplace safety, climate resilience and environmental justice.

“While heat illness is largely preventable, and commonly under-reported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure,” the DOL reported at the time. “Despite widespread under-reporting, 43 workers died from heat illness in 2019, and at least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illnesses. Increasing heat precipitated by climate change can cause lost productivity and work hours resulting in large wage losses for workers.”

According to the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, the economic loss from heat is an estimated $100 billion annually (at least). The Council further estimates that this number could double by 2030 and quintuple by 2050 under a higher emissions scenario.

The program is slated to target high-risk industries and focus agency resources and staff time on heat inspections and will be built upon the existing Regional Emphasis Program for Heat Illnesses in OSHA's Region VI, which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

OSHA Area Directors across the nation will institute the following:

  • Prioritize inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals and employer-reported illnesses and initiate an onsite investigation where possible;
  • Instruct compliance safety and health officers, during their travels to job sites, to conduct an intervention (providing the agency's heat poster/wallet card, discuss the importance of easy access to cool water, cooling areas and acclimatization) or opening an inspection when they observe employees performing strenuous work in hot conditions; and
  • Expand the scope of other inspections to address heat-related hazards where worksite conditions or other evidence indicates these hazards may be present.

In July, the DOL released its annual heat safety reminders, timed to honor the heat-related death of a New York worker the year before. Timothy Barber, 35, died on July 7, 2020, at the end of his shift working on the Genesee River Bridge Project in Geneseo, New York.

OSHA’s investigation into the death found that Barber had been performing what would be considered light-duty work: sorting bolts. However, he was in 90-plus F temperatures.

He was reportedly working alone, working without shade, working without water and not acclimated to the heat. OSHA also determined that his employer, Pavilion Drainage Supply Company Inc., failed to train him and implement other safeguards to protect him and other employees against extreme heat hazards.

Therefore, OSHA reminded everyone that as temperatures rise, so do work risks. Symptoms of excessive heat exposure include: heat stroke, heat stress, cramps, headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, heavy sweating and confusion.

Occupational factors that may contribute to heat illness include: high temperature and humidity, low fluid consumption, direct sun exposure, no shade, limited air movement, physical exertion or use of bulky protective clothing and equipment.

At the time, OSHA also directed professionals to its Occupational Heat Exposure page, which explains symptoms of heat illness as well as first aid measures, proactive engineering controls and work practices to reduce workers’ exposure to heat.

Heat Law

Despite annual reminders and warnings from OSHA, some places have taken heat illness prevention a step further. In 2019, a Florida lawmaker introduced a bill that would set a statewide standard for those working outdoors in relation to heat illness prevention.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, would mandate that workers be given plenty of drinking water, access to shade and 10-minute rest breaks enforced after every two hours of outside labor.

In addition to access to water, shade and breaks, the Florida House bill, and its companion bill in the state Senate, would also require training to spot signs of heat exhaustion and an acclimatization period for workers.

While OSHA has guidelines and recommendations to avoid heat hazards, there is no set standard for heat exposure. The lack of a standard was called to task in 2018 with a petition backed by more than 130 industry organizations.

Led by nonprofit Public Citizen, the petition called for OSHA to do more than just point to suggested guidelines provided by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and argued that, as the climate changes, workers are experiencing more and more heat stress every year, which can take a dangerous toll on the body.

According to the government, 69,374 workers were seriously injured from heat between 1992 and 2016, and 783 U.S. workers died from heat exposure. By combining climate projects and census data, Public Citizen concluded that, by 2050, more than 1 million agriculture and construction workers will experience 30 days or more of dangerous heat per year.

While OSHA endorses NIOSH’s criteria, it has never created a nationally enforceable rule requiring employers to provide water, rest, shade and, more specifically, acclimatization programs or training to recognize symptoms of heat illness.

OSHA does provide visual indicators for heat index levels, which are the baselines for the NIOSH guidelines. However, those levels were also put under the magnifying glass last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees NIOSH.

In August 2018, the CDC released findings from a study that determined whether the heat index limits are effective in protecting workers. The CDC retrospectively reviewed 25 outdoor occupational heat-related illnesses—14 fatal, 11 nonfatal—investigated by OSHA from 2011 to 2016.

Research found that heat stress exceeded exposure limits in all 14 fatalities and in eight of the 11 nonfatal illnesses.

OSHA recommends using the heat index to protect workers, and separates temperatures into four categories:

  • Less than 91 F is a lower level risk that should be met with basic heat and safety training;
  • 91 F to 103 F is a moderate risk and at that time employers should implement precautions and heighten awareness;
  • 103 F to 115 F is high risk and additional precautions to protect workers should be taken; and
  • Greater than 115 F is considered a very high to extreme risk and should trigger “even more aggressive protective measures.”

Tagged categories: Certifications and standards; Department of Labor; Good Technical Practice; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Heat-related injury; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Safety; Workers

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.