News Release

OSHA Heat Standards


This week, legislation was introduced in the House and Senate that aims to protect the safety and health of workers exposed to extreme heat. The bill, called the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act of 2023, would compel the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish a permanent federal standard to protect workers in outdoor and indoor heat. OSHA standards can take several years to be finalized, but the bill would also require OSHA to issue an enforceable interim final standard within a year of the bill’s passage. 

    Barab was the OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary from 2009 to 2017. 

    Fulcher is the worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen.

Barab told the Institute for Public Accuracy: The one-year deadline for the interim standard would be “much faster than under normal OSHA procedures to issue a major standard, which can take anywhere from seven to 20 years.”

He added: “The hazards of heat are nothing new, but it’s been more critical in recent months and years to get something on the books. It’s a climate-related hazard that kills people and workers all around the world.”

Fulcher said: “Everyone is in trouble. The danger of heat stress covers the entire country. [This summer] we have horrific heat waves with triple digit numbers all across the West and South of the country. But we are forgetting that people can die of heat stress at 80 degrees,” which marks the heat-death line. That is when we “start seeing people dying of heat-related illness. You have to calculate humidity and direct sunlight. Eighty [degrees]  can be more like 110 or 115 depending on the situation.

“It’s all about what the worker is acclimated to and used to. When a heat wave comes through that dramatically increases temperatures in [the] area, that has a huge impact on workers. In New England, where [a heat wave is hitting] 95, that’s a serious problem. Those workers are at serious risk––just like they are in Arizona.

“When we look at heat stress deaths, there are more in Texas and California, but they happen all over the country. It’s not just outdoors; it’s indoors too. Extreme high temperatures outside often cause high temperatures inside. Working with heat-producing machinery in factories” also increases indoor temperatures. “Workplaces might not have adequate ventilation or climate control, and many buildings that we work in, [like] warehouses, are magnets for heat.” Trucks, too, pull heat in.

New heat standards need to include a few key components. “The very basic, core absolute is to have constant access to cool or cold water to drink. Rest breaks also need to happen in cool locations––ideally an air-conditioned space, the shade, or well-ventilated [areas]. Breaks also need to be more often and longer based on the temperatures. It’s not just scheduled breaks. When your body can’t function, you need to sit down and take a break. Everyone is different, and some people will reach that overheating point when there’s no scheduled break… You need that flexibility in the heat.”

Fulcher also recommends “training for everyone: managers, owners and employees. Everyone needs to understand what the risks are, what the symptoms [of heat illness] look like, how to respond when they’re feeling heat illness, how to respond when the person next to them is showing signs [of heat illness], and how to respond in an emergency when someone needs immediate aid.”

New workers also need to be acclimatized to higher temperatures. “The majority of workplace heat deaths occur in the first couple days that someone starts a job. You need to get workers gradually used to working in the heat.”