Explaining Proposed OSHA Heat-Protection Rule

Explaining Proposed OSHA Heat-Protection Rule

A proposed rule aims to protect approximately 36 million workers in the United States from the health risks of extreme heat.

On July 2, 2024, the U.S. Department of Labor released the proposed rule, which would require employers to develop an injury and illness prevention plan to control heat hazards in workplaces affected by excessive heat.

Under the plan, employers would be required to:

  • Evaluate heat risks and – when heat increases risk to workers – implement requirements for drinking water, rest breaks and control of indoor heat
  • Develop a plan to protect new or returning workers unaccustomed to working in high heat conditions
  • Provide training, have procedures to respond if a worker is experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness, and take immediate action to help a worker experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat emergency
A construction worker wipes his forehead.
OSHA has proposed two national heat index thresholds that would factor in temperature and humidity.

OSHA proposes two national heat index thresholds that would factor in temperature and humidity. The first threshold, at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, would require employers to provide drinking water and break areas that workers can use as needed. The second, which would kick in at 90 degrees, would introduce additional protections including monitoring for signs of heat illness and mandatory 15-minute rest breaks every two hours. Employers would also be required to check on people working alone every few hours and to issue a hazard alert, reminding their workers of the importance of staying hydrated.

“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 Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, Douglas L. Parker, said in a press release issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). “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.”

Heat is the leading cause of death among all hazardous weather conditions in the United States, according to OSHA. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, exposure to environmental heat claimed the lives of 479 workers in the U.S. from 2011-2022. That’s an average of 40 fatalities per year.

“There were 33,890 estimated work-related heat injuries and illnesses that resulted in days away from work,” OSHA wrote in the proposed rule. “However, these statistics for occupational heat-related illnesses, injuries, and fatalities are likely vast underestimates.”

The federal government’s increased efforts to protect American workers from excessive heat come during a summer when the country is experiencing record temperatures – and as several states have taken actions to reduce the amount of protection they require employers to offer their workers.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently ignited significant debate when he signed into law a bill prohibiting local governments from enacting their own rules ensuring workers have access to water, rest, and shade on hot days.

And just last year, Texas legislators passed a bill that, among other effects, eliminated ordinances in Austin and Dallas that established mandatory water breaks for construction workers.

Heat advisories have been in near-constant effect across large swaths of the country throughout the past month, including in Florida and Texas.

“We know that temperatures will continue to go up,” Ana Gonzalez, deputy director of policy and politics at the Texas AFL-CIO, told the Texas Tribune in an article about the federal government’s new proposed heat protection rule. “So these protections need to be in place.”

Now that the proposed rule is published, OSHA must establish a period to collect public input before it can go into effect. According to its press release, the agency anticipates a public hearing after the close of the written comment period.

As the Washington Post reported, industry groups and other stakeholders are expected to argue that the rule is burdensome, redundant, and expensive.

In a letter sent to OSHA officials last week, the Construction Industry Safety Coalition – an organization that includes groups like the Associated General Contractors of America and the National Association of Home Builders – asked that “absent a withdrawal of the rulemaking in its entirety,” OSHA should write a separate rule for construction workers.

“Construction work is simply too distinct from other general industries to be covered by the same rule,” the Coalition wrote in its letter.

As this new rule’s fate is decided, OSHA is expected to continue to conduct heat-related inspections under its National Emphasis Program – Outdoor and Indoor Heat-Related Hazards. Launched in 2022, the program enables the agency to conduct proactive inspections of workplaces with the highest exposures to heat-related hazards. OSHA has conducted more than 5,000 inspections through this program.

“Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more suffer illnesses related to hazardous heat exposure that, sadly, are most often preventable,” the agency wrote.

GPRS is Committed to You & Your Team’s Safety

At GPRS, safety is always on our radar.

That’s more than just a catchy tagline; through our sponsorship of safety initiatives such as Concrete Sawing & Drilling Safety Week, Construction Safety Week, and Water & Sewer Damage Awareness Week, we aim to ensure that every employer and employee in the construction industry is equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to stay safe while building for our nation’s future.

Click here to learn more about GPRS’ safety initiatives and partnerships.