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DOL proposes rule to protect workers from extreme heat

The rule mandates comprehensive heat injury and illness prevention plans for indoor and outdoor work settings.

Measuring Station

The U.S. Department of Labor has announced a proposed rule aimed at protecting approximately 36 million workers from the health risks of extreme heat. The rule, if finalized, would require employers to implement comprehensive heat injury and illness prevention plans for both indoor and outdoor work settings.

Heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S., and excessive workplace heat can cause severe health issues, including heat stroke and death. Workers in many industries are affected, with workers of color more likely to be exposed to hazardous heat conditions.

"Every worker should come home safe and healthy at the end of the day, which is why the Biden-Harris administration is taking this significant step to protect workers from the dangers posed by extreme heat," said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. "We are committed to ensuring that those doing difficult work in some of our economy’s most critical sectors are valued and kept safe in the workplace."

The proposed rule would require employers to develop an injury and illness prevention plan to address heat hazards, including providing drinking water, rest breaks, and controlling indoor temperatures. Employers would also need to protect new or returning workers who are not acclimatized to high heat conditions.

“Workers all over the country are passing out, suffering heat stroke, and dying from heat exposure from just doing their jobs, and something must be done to protect them,” said Doug Parker, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health. “Today’s proposal is an important next step to receive public input to craft a ‘win-win’ final rule that protects workers while being practical and workable for employers.”

Key elements of the proposed standard include:

  • Developing and implementing a heat injury and illness prevention plan specific to each work site.
  • Monitoring heat conditions and implementing control measures at designated heat index triggers (80°F and 90°F).
  • Providing cool drinking water, break areas with cooling measures, and acclimatization protocols.
  • Mandatory rest breaks and observation for heat-related illnesses at higher heat index levels.
  • Initial and annual training for supervisors, heat safety coordinators, and employees.

The proposed rule excludes certain activities, such as short duration exposures to heat, emergency response activities, work in indoor sites kept below 80°F, telework, and indoor sedentary work activities.

The public is encouraged to submit comments on the rule once it is published in the Federal Register. A public hearing is also anticipated following the comment period. More information on submitting comments will be available on the OSHA website.

The Department of Labor continues to conduct heat-related inspections under its National Emphasis Program, proactively inspecting workplaces with high heat exposure. Since its launch in 2022, OSHA has conducted over 5,000 federal heat-related inspections.

Additionally, the department is prioritizing inspections in agricultural industries employing temporary, nonimmigrant H-2A workers, who face unique vulnerabilities such as language barriers and less control over working conditions.

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