Federal Heat Stress Standards Are On The Horizon

US House Democrats released a bill in early July that, if passed, would direct OSHA, over the next two years, to develop federal standards on workplace heat stress.

The Asuncion Valdivia Illness and Fatality Prevention Act is named for a 53-year old man who suffered a fatal stroke in 2004 after picking grapes for 10 hours straight in 105-degree temperatures. In some parts of the US, heat-related health risks are expected to rise significantly in the years ahead. Excessive environmental heat stress killed 783 US workers — and seriously injured 69,374 — from 1992 through 2016, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It isn’t surprising to see this showing up on the federal regulatory agenda. In fact, it’s been a long time coming. The issue has been brewing for well over a decade, and state agencies have led the way in figuring out what kind of programs work best. California, Washington, and Minnesota have already incorporated new heat standards in their health and safety plans. Florida is currently considering new standards.

The bill requires that the new standard be at least as protective as “the most protective” state standard — and many stakeholders agree that this means that the new federal standard will mirror the heat stress regulations developed in California over a decade ago.

The Cal/OSHA standards require employers to provide workers in high-heat environments — both indoor and outdoor — with paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water, and exposure limitations. The new standard, we can assume, would also require employers to educate workers about heat-related illness risk factors and to establish clear procedures for responding to heat-stress symptoms.

If the bill is passed, as it probably will be, OSHA will use the next two years to engage with stakeholders and develop standards that are, we can hope, both feasible and effective. I’ll let you know when the input phase of this process begins, and how you can participate.

Establishing a national heat stress standard will hopefully bring clarity to both the structure and function of effective heat management programs for everyone. For employers, if you don’t have a heat illness prevention program in place, now is the time to consider developing one. If you do have a program, now would be a good time to review it.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about any compliance or regulatory issue. I can help you proactively prepare for the changes we know are on the horizon, and respond to them with clarity and confidence.

About the Author: James Laboe

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