June 20, 2024

OSHA’s Proposed Heat Standard: Implications and Next Steps 

As discussed here, in October 2021 the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice) for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings. Publication of the October Notice signaled the beginning of OSHA’s rulemaking process to consider a heat-specific workplace standard.  

Recently, OSHA has taken a critical step towards establishing a formal heat standard by moving forward with its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings. This move comes after years of increasing concerns over the impact of rising temperatures on outdoor workers, particularly in industries like agriculture and construction. 

OSHA’s Rulemaking Process 

The NPRM initiates the rulemaking process, allowing OSHA to gather information and feedback from stakeholders, including employers, workers, and subject matter experts. This input will inform the development of a comprehensive heat standard that aims to protect workers from heat-related illnesses and injuries. 

During this phase, OSHA will seek comments on various aspects of the proposed rule, such as: 

  • Potential heat stress thresholds and exposure limits 
  • Acclimatization protocols for new and returning workers 
  • Requirements for providing water, rest breaks, and shade 
  • Training and education for employers and employees 
  • Monitoring and reporting mechanisms for heat-related incidents 

Prioritizing Agricultural Inspections 

OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on Heat Hazards, launched in 2022, has already conducted nearly 5,000 inspections in workplaces with high heat exposure. However, the lack of a specific heat standard has limited the agency’s ability to issue citations and enforce stricter penalties for repeat violations. 

While the rulemaking process is underway, OSHA continues to prioritize heat-related inspections on agricultural employers that employ temporary H-2A workers for seasonal labor. 

Next Steps 

As OSHA moves forward with the rulemaking process, employers should take proactive steps to ensure the safety of their workers during hot weather conditions. Here are some key actions to consider: 

  1. Review existing heat illness prevention plans: Evaluate current policies and procedures for providing water, rest breaks, shade, and acclimatization protocols. Identify areas for improvement and align with OSHA’s existing guidance on heat hazards. 
  2. Enhance training and education: Implement comprehensive training programs for supervisors and workers on recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, proper hydration, and emergency response procedures. 
  3. Implement monitoring and reporting systems: Establish mechanisms for monitoring and reporting heat-related incidents, near misses, and potential hazards. This data can inform future prevention strategies and demonstrate compliance with OSHA requirements. 
  4. Engage with stakeholders: Participate in the rulemaking process by submitting comments and feedback to OSHA. Collaborate with industry associations, worker advocacy groups, and other stakeholders to ensure a balanced and effective heat standard. 
  5. Prepare for compliance: A finalized rule could be in place by early 2025. As the rulemaking progresses, stay informed about the proposed requirements and begin planning for necessary changes to policies, procedures, and infrastructure to comply with the new heat standard. California employers who are already covered by the state’s heat illness prevention regulations are likely already in compliance  

By taking proactive measures and engaging in the rulemaking process, employers can play a crucial role in shaping a comprehensive heat standard that prioritizes worker safety while considering the unique challenges of the agricultural industry.