Rising Temps, Rising Safety Concerns: OSHA’s New Heat Standard

In recent years, there has been growing concern about extreme heat and its impact on workers’ health. In response, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a proposed rule with the goal of protecting millions of workers from the the significant health risks of extreme heat. If finalized, OSHA’s new heat standard would help protect approximately 36 million workers in indoor and outdoor work settings and substantially reduce heat injuries, illnesses and deaths in the workplace. 

Physical labor increases the heat experienced by workers. Sports physiologists recognize that heat-related illness may occur, surprisingly, at low to moderate temperatures, including below 65°F when workload is very heavy (Armstrong 2007).

Heat Hazard Recognition – Occupational Health and Safety Administration

According to Scientific American, “Extreme heat is the number-one weather-related cause of death in the U.S., and it kills more people most years than hurricanes, floods and tornadoes combined.” The effects of exposure to extreme heat can set in quickly and cause damage to the central nervous system, brain, and other vital organs. It also exacerbates existing medical conditions such as hypertension and heart disease and is especially dangerous for those suffering from chronic disease.

The proposed rule from OSHA is multifaceted. Included is a requirement for employers to develop a Heat Illness Prevention Plan (HIIP) which addresses the following:


Under the prosed plan, employers would be required to protect new or returning workers unaccustomed to working in high heat conditions. This could include a gradual increase of work hours and taking more breaks during their first week of work as they adjust to the heat.

Monitoring Heat Exposure

Under the proposed rule, heat indexes must be assessed daily in order to determine which protective measures must be utilized. Wearable heat monitors, weather tracking apps, and heat index information from reputable national and local news sources can be used to aide in the assessment. Control of indoor heat could include warning alarms, fans or air conditioning that adjusts automatically, and provision of a cool room for workers who need a break.

Heat Training

Supervisors and workers must be trained in recognizing heat illnesses, prevention strategies, and proper response to emergencies. Encouraging employees to speak up for what they need and voice their concerns is part of developing a safety culture and also ensures worker safety.

Rest and Hydration

Shaded, cool areas (such as a shade tree or pop-up tent) must be made available to workers. Drinking water – at least 32 ounces per worker, per day – must be provided and reminders to hydrate are encouraged.

Emergency Response

Emergency response procedures must be accessible to all employees. Training in the recognition of heat stress and stroke and understanding how to respond quickly and effectively are critical.

Indoors or outdoors, extreme heat is dangerous. When implemented, OSHA’s new heat standard will protect workers from these dangers. With the inclusion of preventative measures, training, and monitoring, this standard has the potential to mitigate risks presented by heat exposure and therefore, minimize heat related illness and death.

July 2024

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