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:
- California. California’s Heat Illness Prevention Standard requires employers to provide training, water, shade, and planning. A temperature of 80°F triggers the requirements. See CalOSHA's website. See the full text of the California heat standard.
- Minnesota. The standard applies to indoor places of employment. See the full text of the regulation.
- Washington. See Washington State’s Outdoor Heat Exposure Rule. See the full text of the regulation.
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 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
- The use of hard hats while working on roofs in hot weather. (August 1, 2014). Addresses concerns related to the use of hard hats and roofers’ risk of heat-related illnesses from exposure to excessive heat.
- Whether the use of personal protective equipment is mandatory when working under heat stress conditions. (May 18, 2010). OSHA guidance for choosing appropriate PPE to protect workers from electrical hazards when heat stress is a factor.
- Clarification of preexisting injury/illness and recordkeeping. (October 6, 2009). Clarifies recordkeeping requirements for heat-related illnesses.
- Wearing short-sleeved shirts while performing a thermal spray operation with exposure to hexavalent chromium fumes. (January 25, 2007).
- Requirements for "nature breaks" and weather-related "comfort breaks" for U.S. Postal Service employee. (May 12, 2006)
- Acceptable methods to reduce heat stress hazards in the workplace. (October 17, 2001). Identifies feasible and acceptable methods that can be used to reduce heat stress in workplaces.
- Fire retardant PPE requirements and PPE hazard assessment. (March 27, 1998). Identifies heat and cold stress as factors considered under PPE hazard assessment.
- Interpretation of OSHA requirements for personal protective equipment to be used during marine oil spill emergency response operations. (September 11, 1995). 29 CFR 1910.132(d) mandates that the employer perform a hazard assessment of the workplace to determine if the use of PPE is necessary; select and mandate worker use of the necessary PPE; communicate selection of PPE decisions to workers; and select PPE that properly fits the employees.
- Landscaping employees working in extreme temperatures. (July 14, 1992).
There are 28 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.