4 min read

Navigating Federal and State-Required Heat Prevention Plans

Navigating Federal and State-Required Heat Prevention Plans

NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) scientists reported that July 2023 was the hottest month on record globally. Unfortunately, experts predict this year will likely surpass last year's record. The rise in temperatures is partially due to the current El Niño event, which refers to above-average sea-surface temperatures that typically result in warmer and drier weather. As a result of rising temperatures, federal and state agencies are updating or implementing new employer safety regulations.  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that approximately 3,389 workers suffer from heat-related injuries and illnesses each year, and about 33 workers die as a result of work-related heat exposure annually. Not only do these incidents impact workers and their families, but they also have financial implications for employers due to lost productivity and increased workers' compensation costs. According to experts, the annual economic loss caused by heat is estimated at least $100 billion. This figure is expected to double by 2030 and quintuple by 2050 due to higher global climate emission scenarios. 

What is Heat Stress? 

All workers exposed to heat or warm environments are at risk of heat stress. Heat stress occurs when the body cannot rid itself of excess heat. This can cause the body's core temperature and heart rate to increase, resulting in various health conditions. The most common include: 

  • Heat rashes are skin irritations caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.  
  • Heat cramps usually affect workers who sweat excessively during strenuous activity, depleting the body's salt and moisture levels.  
  • Heat exhaustion occurs when individuals lose excessive water and salt through heavy sweating. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, and thirst, and when not addressed, it can quickly turn into heatstroke. 
  • Heatstroke is the most severe heat-related illness. It occurs when the body cannot control its internal temperature. Individuals may become irritable or sick and may have slurred speech. If not addressed immediately, they may faint, seize, suffer permanent disability, or, in extreme cases, die. 

OSHA Moves Forward with Rulemaking 

On April 24, 2024, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) presented a draft rule on heat exposure at an Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health meeting. The committee, which advises OSHA on safety and health standards and policy matters, unanimously recommended that the agency move forward quickly on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. As part of the rulemaking process, the agency will seek and consider input from stakeholders, including the public, while it works to propose and finalize a permanent standard. 

In the interim, OSHA is prioritizing employer and employee education and enforcement of workplace safety regulations through a National Emphasis Program (NEP) that specifically deals with injuries and illnesses caused by heat exposure. The NEP is enforced under the General Duty Clause, which states that employers are responsible for ensuring a work environment free from recognized hazards that may result in death or serious physical harm. This means that employers must approach heat-related dangers in the workplace in the same way they would any other hazard. OSHA recommends employers follow best practices to keep workers safe, including: 

  • Implementing a heat exposure prevention program to mitigate injuries and illnesses; 
  • Conducting a job hazard analysis to identify indoor and outdoor tasks that could increase the risk of exposure to heat; 
  • Designating someone at each worksite to monitor temperatures and workers on high temp days (above 80°F);  
  • Training employees on the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses and what they can do to protect themselves;  
  • Developing emergency response procedures for heat-related illnesses; and 
  • Reviewing OSHA 300 logs, incident reports, and near-miss reports for heat-related cases and developing mitigation strategies for future events. 

Employers in states with state-run safety agencies, like those in California, Oregon, and Washington, must follow their state's safety rules if applicable.  

California Requirements 

California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has some of the country's most comprehensive heat illness prevention standards. Under Title 8 §3395, all employers with outdoor workers must have a written Heat Illness Prevention Plan that outlines how the employer will provide workers with access to shade, water, and rest breaks. In addition to these basic prevention protocols, the plan must include specific high-heat procedures, acclimatization methods, emergency response protocols, and training programs. The plan must be in English and the language that most employees understand, and be available at the worksite.  

California has also announced that a heat illness prevention regulation for indoor places of employment is currently being developed.  

Oregon Requirements 

Regardless of whether employees work indoors or out, with limited exception, Oregon OSHA requires employers to protect employees from heat-related illnesses if their work activities expose them to a heat index of 80°F or more. OAR 437-002-0156 addresses general industry requirements for employers, while OAR 437-004-1131 lists requirements for employers in agriculture.  

Both rules specify that employers must create a written Heat Illness Prevention Plan that addresses how the employer will provide water, rest, shade, and training for employees working in high temperatures and how the employer will respond to heat-related emergencies. Interestingly, Oregon rules require employers to keep drinking water cool (from 35°F to 77°F) and specify that any packaged water or electrolyte-replenishing drinks do not contain caffeine. 

Washington Requirements 

Washington's Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has established several outdoor heat rules, including WAC 296-62-095 for employers covered by general industry requirements, WAC 296-307-097 for those in agriculture, WAC 296-305-05004 for firefighters, and WAC 296-305-07004 for wildland firefighters.  

Focusing on general industry requirements, employers must have a written Outdoor Heat Exposure Plan activated when outdoor temperatures reach 52°F if employees wear non-breathable clothing or personal protective equipment (PPE) or 80°F when employees wear all other clothing. Like other state requirements, the plan must outline procedures for providing drinking water, access to shade, and cool-down breaks and include an acclimatization schedule, training, and emergency procedures.  

Ready to Address Heat Safety in Your Workplace? 

Prioritizing heat prevention not only ensures regulatory compliance but also safeguards the health and well-being of the workforce. Now is the time to train your employees on your workplace's plan, the hazards of heat exposure, the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses, and emergency procedures. Employers must deliver the training annually before workers are exposed to heat or whenever a new heat hazard is introduced. Eligible Archbright members can find helpful tools such as state-specific Heat Illness Prevention Plan templates and Heat Exposure Quickstarts in the Resource Library on mozzo and have access to Archbright's Safety Consultants for plan reviews, assistance with training implementation, and more. For more information on membership, contact info@archbright.com.  


New Heat Exposure Rules To Watch For This Summer

New Heat Exposure Rules To Watch For This Summer

With summer temperatures consistently rising across the country year after year, new safety regulation development is underway at the state and...

Read More
OSHA Updates Guidance on Citations

OSHA Updates Guidance on Citations

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) mission is to ensure that employees work in a safe and healthful environment by setting and...

Read More
Job Hazard Analyses: Yep, Your Workplace Needs Them

1 min read

Job Hazard Analyses: Yep, Your Workplace Needs Them

Regardless of industry, all employers must provide employees with a safe and healthy working environment, free from recognized hazards. While some...

Read More