The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates a wide variety of workplace safety standards, from the safe handling of hazardous materials to lockout/tagout procedures. One area where the federal health and safety regulator doesn't have a specific rule is in terms of recognizing and preventing heat-related illnesses and injuries. While OSHA provides plenty of guidance about keeping workers safe from potentially dangerous temperatures, it doesn't set exposure limits or require specific preventative actions. That could eventually change, thanks to a bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Judy Chu.
"Heat-related rules would change the way OSHA responds to such complaints."
Construction Dive reported that Chu introduced the bill in early July, and it now sits before the House Committee on Education and Labor. While the bill still has to pass through many legislative steps before it would require OSHA to develop rules for protecting employees from exposure to excessive heat, the introduction of the new potential legislation is significant in and of itself. Considering that the International Safety Equipment Association, a professional group of businesses that manufacture personal protective equipment, is also planning to lobby for rules to protect workers, this could be the starting point for an increased focus on the dangers of excessive heat for employees.
Heat-related illnesses and injuries are important considerations both inside and outdoors, as Penn Live pointed out. While some view the dangers of heat as primarily affecting workers in fields like agriculture and construction, problems can arise in many contexts.
"Companies that have workers inside that might have furnaces or ovens — their air conditioning might not able to keep up," said David Olah, director of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania OSHA branch. "So there's almost more of a concern from inside people."
Understanding all of the areas where heat can cause problems for employees, related to both health and productivity, is crucial for a wide range of businesses.
OSHA currently provides a number of common-sense recommendations to employers whose staff work in potentially dangerous temperatures, including providing adequate shade, water and rest periods as well as monitoring for heat-related issues. Additionally, employees can file complaints about unsafe working conditions, including health and safety risks related to heat, even though the organization doesn't have specific heat-related rules in place. However, a national heat standard would allow for more consistent enforcement and specific policies that take established heat safety data into account.