Employer Responsibilities (OSHA Standard: General Duty Clause)

Under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that "is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees." The courts have interpreted OSHA's general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard. This includes heat-related hazards that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm.

NIOSH's Recommended Heat Standard

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has published criteria for a recommended standard for occupational heat stress. The NIOSH document includes recommendations for employers about how to prevent heat-related illnesses.

Criteria for a Recommended Standard – Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2016-106, (February 2016).

Heat Standards in Specific States

Many U.S. states run their own OSHA-approved State Plans. Some states have adopted standards that cover hazards not addressed by federal OSHA standards. The following states have standards for heat exposure:

Related Standards

The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard at 29 CFR 1910.132(d) requires every employer in general industry to conduct a hazard assessment to determine the appropriate PPE to be used to protect workers from the hazards identified in the assessment. See also 29 CFR 1915.152 (shipyard), 29 CFR 1917.95 (maritime) and both 29 CFR 1926.28 and 29 CFR 1926.95 (construction).

The Recordkeeping regulation ( 29 CFR 1904) requires employers to record certain work-related injuries and illnesses. In general, if a worker sustains a work-related injury or illness and receives days away from work, restricted work activity/job transfer, or medical treatment beyond first aid, the case will need to be recorded. However, if a worker needs "first aid," as defined in 29 CFR 1904.7(b)(5), the employer is not required to record the case. For example, if a worker requires intravenous fluids to treat a work-related illness, the case meets the general recording criteria. On the other hand, if a worker is only instructed to drink fluids for relief of heat stress, the case is not recordable. Refer to 29 CFR 1904.7(b)(5) for an explanation of the difference between medical treatment and first aid. Importantly, under 29 CFR 1904.39, employers are required to report to OSHA all work-related fatalities within eight hours, and all work-related inpatient hospitalizations within twenty-four hours. This reporting requirement would include occupational heat-related events such as heat illness, heat stroke, kidney injury, and rhabdomyolysis that result in death or inpatient hospitalization.

The Sanitation standards at 29 CFR 1910.141, 29 CFR 1915.88, 29 CFR 1917.127, 29 CFR 1918.95, 29 CFR 1926.51 and 29 CFR 1928.110 require employers to provide potable water.

The Medical Services and First Aid standards at 29 CFR 1910.151, 29 CFR 1915.87, 29 CFR 1917.26, 29 CFR 1918.97, and 29 CFR 1926.50, require that persons on-site be adequately trained to render first aid, in the absence of medical facilities within close proximity.

The Safety Training and Education standard for construction at 29 CFR 1926.21.

Letters of Interpretation
State Plan Standards

There are 29 OSHA-approved State Plans operating state-wide occupational safety and health programs. State Plans are required to have standards and enforcement programs that are at least as effective as OSHA's and may have different or more stringent requirements.