Vigilant Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law, HR, safety & workers' comp

May 05, 2022

Prepare for heat illness prevention

Safety and Health 

As summer approaches, now is the time to review your safety plans for protecting workers from heat illness hazards. California and Washington have state-specific heat stress regulations and directives that you must follow, while Arizona, Idaho, and Montana follow federal law. Meanwhile, Oregon is in the process of developing permanent standards. Here are the key requirements and resources for each:

Federal (Idaho and Montana): The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) treats heat illness as a hazard that must be dealt with by employers under OSHA’s general duty clause, which requires employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment. In April 2022, OSHA upped its focus on heat illness by launching a heat enforcement program that targets industries with high heat hazards (e.g., agriculture, construction, foundries, metal production and processing, and other manufacturing environments with high heat). Specifically, the enforcement program calls for inspections when the National Weather Service has announced a heat advisory for the area where a target industry is located, and inspections of industries where temperatures within facilities can be particularly high regardless of weather. See the tips section below for OSHA’s recommendations for preventing heat illness and check out its heat exposure web page.

Arizona: While Arizona follows OSHA’s expectations, its Industrial Commission has a specific heat stress awareness web page and the Arizona Department of Health Services has an outdoor worker toolkit, although virtually all of these links and recommendations align with OSHA’s guidance and are summarized in the tips below.

California: In California, employers must follow Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention standard, which applies to all outdoor places of employment. The rules contain requirements for employers to provide suitably cool drinking water, access to shade, and cool-down rest breaks. They also contain specific actions employers must take when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with additional requirements that apply to certain industries (e.g., agriculture and transportation of heavy materials) when the temperature reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Under the rules, employers must develop and implement a written Heat Illness Prevention Plan that meets certain requirements. Other provisions in the rules include requirements for emergency response procedures, worker acclimatization to heat, and training. Cal/OSHA has several online resources with more information about heat illness, including their Heat Illness Prevention web page, Heat Illness Prevention Enforcement Q&A, and Heat Illness Prevention eTool.

Oregon: Oregon OSHA is developing a permanent set of standards to protect employees from heat illness, with the goal of having them in place by June 15, 2022. Previously, the agency published a temporary heat illness standard for workplaces effective July 8, 2021 (see our Alert here) as well as one for employer-provided housing effective August 9, 2021 (see our Alert here), but both rules expired after 180 days. The agency’s rulemaking web page for excessive heat indicates that an advisory committee published proposed rules in January 2022. We’ll keep members informed of any developments. In the meantime, we recommend reviewing Oregon OSHA’s resources on heat stress and taking whatever practical steps are necessary to keep employees safe in high-heat situations.

Washington: Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) requires heat exposure prevention plans to be in place from May 1 through September 30 of each year. L&I has several publications and resources to assist employers in preventing heat-related illness. L&I enforces a general rule to protect employees from heat illness, with different rules and guidance for firefighters, wildland firefighters and agricultural workers. The general rule defines three outdoor temperature action levels: 52, 77, and 89 degrees Fahrenheit. Employees must be trained annually on symptoms of heat exposure and your policies to prevent heat-related illness. L&I is also currently in the process of rulemaking to update its ambient heat exposure rules and is holding public meetings for feedback.

Tips: To implement an effective heat illness prevention plan, federal OSHA recommends that you take the following steps: 

  • Establish a written heat illness prevention policy that also addresses emergency response procedures.
  • Train employees and supervisors to recognize, prevent, and address hazards that cause heat illness; how to recognize heat illness symptoms; and how to respond if someone develops symptoms.
  • Provide sufficient fresh water (cool, if possible) and encourage employees to drink adequate amounts.
  • Provide extra rest periods and provide adequate shade for everyone during rest periods and meals.
  • Consider other options for helping employees cool off, such as fans and misting stations.
  • Establish a program for new or returning employees to acclimate to warmer temperatures.

If you have any questions about how to protect workers from heat illness, please contact your Vigilant safety professional.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.