OSHA Warning on Heat Stress

Although summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21, many parts of the country are already experiencing hot weather. That’s why OSHA urges employers to take steps to prevent heat stress and heat stroke.

 

OSHA warns that the combination of heat and humidity can be a serious health threat during the summer for workers. Employees in a wide variety of industries work outdoors or in un-air-conditioned facilities and factories.  These types of jobs include workers at resorts and beaches, those in the construction industry, landscaping crews, road crews, workers in bakeries, kitchens and laundries, and agricultural employees, among others.

 

Every employee should be warned of the precautions to take to avoid heat stress. OSHA recommends that employees take these steps:

  • Drink water in small amounts frequently
  • Clothing should be light colored and fit loosely
  • Clothing of natural fibers that breathes, such as cotton, is preferred
  • Employees should take frequent breaks in the shade or an air-conditioned vehicle
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and large amounts of sugar – they impair the body’s ability to cool itself.
  • Work in the shade whenever possible

In addition, OSHA officials warn that certain prescription medications can increase an employee’s sensitivity to heat. Each employee should check with his or her doctor on special precautions to take during hot weather. Special equipment such as work suits or respirators can increase body temperature, and increase the chances of heat stress.

 

Heat stress is a general term that encompasses the body’s response to higher temperatures, from mild to severe symptoms. There are three major heat-related disorders:

Heat exhaustion or Hyperthermia should not be confused with Hypothermia. Although both conidtions are potentially fatal, in Hyperthermia the body temperature is too high. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature is too cold.  Employers should train workers to recognize each condition, and know what first aid treatment is necessary. If an employee believes that a coworker has heat stroke or heat exhaustion, the affected employee should find cool shade. If possible, the worker should be placed in an air-conditioned vehicle. Emergency responders should be contacted and the worker should be given water in small sips.

 

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29 Thoughts on “OSHA Warning on Heat Stress”

Richard

June 29, 2008 at 11:31 pm

I am a postal mail man, driving a 2 ton mail truck everyday (Same size as UPS, Fedex truck), which has no A/C in it but only has a 8″ fan, and the engine is right by the leg side. (Always got hot air out even you set vent on cold)

On 6/27 Friday 3:20pm, at local temperature 94 degree (radiant heat in the truck makes temperature higher for over 100 degree), my postmaster spoted me driving with both front doors open (same as UPS,Fedex driver does, with safety belt on), she wrote me up for violations, says postal regulation require both doors closed despite whatever the temperature is.

When the temperature gets high, almost every 2 ton carrier has both doors open to avoid heat stress, I just got unlucky to be nailed that day. I don’t think it is legit to compromise my health for the bureaucracy.

How can I protect myself from this harassment? Any OSHA regulation I can use ?

Thank you very much for your time.

Amelia

June 30, 2008 at 10:39 am

If you are a postal service employee, contact your union rep. The postal service has one of the strongest unions in the nation. OSHA also has specific regulations for different industries, so contact them directly. Unfortunately, it is permitted for the USPS to have different regulations from FedEx regarding the doors. However, the employer may need to take additional steps to ensure the employee’s health, if not their comfort. If you have more questions, post them on our sister site at http://www.laborlawtalk.com. Thanks for reading the blog! Amelia

Angela

July 14, 2008 at 5:47 am

Are there any rules that factories must follow in giving employees water breaks during hot weather? Our factory is small (about 40 employees), & our employers give the employees a hard time about going to the restroom to wet down or getting water. They don’t provide us with ice, or anything else. Our lunch room is air conditioned, but they won’t turn the air on. They say it will make people sick more easily. I passed out from heat stroke last summer, as well as another employee. They act as though we are trying to get out of work & tell us it’s our fault because wetting ourselves down caused the heat stroke. Your time & help is appreciated.

Amelia

July 14, 2008 at 9:59 am

Hi Angela! Yes, everything you mention is probably a violation of OSHA standards. You should report this employer to OSHA immediately. Virtually all employers must permit employees to drink water during hot weather. It is NOT true that having the air conditioner on in the break room or dousing yourself with water causes heat stroke. It prevents it. This employer seems woefully uninformed, or willfully ignorant. If you report this situation, and emphasize that several employees have already had heat stroke, OSHA will almost immediately conduct an inspection. For complete answers to all your HR questions, post them on our sister site at http://www.laborlawtalk.com. And thanks for reading the blog! Amelia

kirk

July 30, 2008 at 8:16 pm

From us all its HOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

August 12, 2008 at 4:29 am

I am a telephone company technician working in Florida, the right to work state so we are often told. The temperatures in August can get as high as 104. The company has metrics that cause management to monitor the amount of time we idle our trucks (and a lot of them are NOT air conditioned). We often are left on site waiting for support personal anywhere from an hour or longer. We are being told by management that we can not sit in our trucks or go back to the garage. They want us to stand outside and wait for the support personal. They harass us and threaten us with compliance. Can they legally do this? Our union tells them they can’t say these things but doesn’t do anything to prohibit them in harassing and threatening us with compliance. We need a course of action to enforce what we know as plain old common sense. Any advice?

Amelia

August 12, 2008 at 11:41 am

Hi Mike!! This sounds like a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing (or should be doing.) It sounds like an overzealous supervisor is trying to save gas and reduce expenses, but disregarding OSHA standards. The first suggestion would be for you to contact the nearest OSHA office and have a conversation with them about this practice. In Florida, the OSHA offices are in Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville and Tampa.

If you are not getting any satisfaction from the union, go to a union rep who is higher up. An extreme measure would be for an employee to disregard the supervisor and allow himself to be fired for idling his truck to run the a/c on a day when it’s 104 degrees outside. The union would then (presumably) fight the termination. If the union won, this would eliminate the problem for everyone. But there is a small possibility that the union would lose, and this employee would be out of a job.

For more solutions, post your dilemma on our sisters site at http://www.laborlawtalk.com. Best of luck, and thanks for reading the blogs! ~ Amelia

Jane

August 12, 2009 at 7:31 am

I work construction and know that other states have regulations regarding temperatures. When I worked in SC if the temperatures reached triple didgets we would shut the jobsite down. Are there any regulations in NC that would shut down a jobsite when temperatures are extreme?

Amelia

August 12, 2009 at 8:50 am

Hi Jane! No, there are no federal regulations and few state regulations regarding specific temperatures. In many states such as Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, construction employees routinely work when it is more than 100 degrees outside. It appears that your former employer had the policy of stopping work when the temperature soared — but there is no law that an employer must do so.
The tips in this article were designed to specifically address that problem. It is safe for employees to work outside when temperatures are over 100 degrees, as long as the precautions above are taken. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

troy

August 18, 2009 at 9:48 pm

hello, i am a worker in a fruit infusion and drying shop in Michigan. it gets up to 100 degrees with what feels like 100% humidity oh and there is a boiler system in the room that i work in and i was wondering if there is anything that i can do legaly without loosing my job too get the temp down in the room? they do have an air exchanger but it exchanges just more than what the drying oven puts out (from what the engeneer told me). I just know that something needs to be done before someone gets very sick or possible dies. I personnally have had a close brush with heat exhaustion.

Amelia

August 19, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Hi troy! Unfortunately, there is no limit on the temperature or humidity in the workplace under OSHA regulations (or in most states.) Employees in Texas work in foundries when it is 110 degrees outside, and 130 degrees inside.
OSHA does require that employers take reasonable precautions to prevent heat stroke such as the ones mentioned in this article. But there is no law that the employer must air condition the workplace. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Mark

April 12, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Can someone specifiy what are the highest allowable space conditions
(dry bulb and wet bulb) which will result in a heat stress condition for
commercial kitchens?

Amelia

April 12, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Hi Mark! Not entirely sure about your question, but the OSHA warning addresses the issue of heat stress, a medical condition for workers. Every workers tolerance to heat is slightly different. Some people can work in a 120-degree kitchen without a problem, others will experience heat stress at 95 degress. Factors in heat tolerance include age, prescription drugs, some medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension, being dehydrated and general physical condition.
It almost sounds like your question relates to building codes rather than worker safety. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

June 24, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Is there a law that says that when you work in a metal and tin building and the tempertures get up to 100 or more that the plant has to provide its employees with a way to keep cool , other then water and fans because that isn’t working , we still are standing there working and the sweat is pouring off of us. It is so hot and humid in there and the machines around us just makes it that much hotter, the fans pull the hot air that goes up down into the fans and smother us. please help.

Amelia

June 24, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Hi twd! There is no specific law or regulation regarding metal and tin buildings, but every employer must provide safe working conditions at all times. In particular, ceiling fans should be set to pull the cooler air up, rather than forcing the hot air down. It sounds like you and your coworkers are at risk for heat stroke or heat stress. Besides following the advice in the article above, we are going to suggest that you contact OSHA at http://www.osha.gov and file a complaint about unsafe working conditions. They will inspect the workplace, and if there are problems, they will suggest solutions to the employer. An employer is not allowed to retaliate against an employee who makes a complaint to OSHA. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Traci

June 28, 2010 at 8:27 pm

hi, i work in a metal top building with little to no air on most days, they say the air is working but we never feel it. They have brought in fans, only a handful, not enough for everyone. Five minutes on the job we are dropping sweat from our chins…. Isn’t there a certain temp that is too high for working in a metal building with little to no air, but hot air?

Amelia

June 28, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Hi Traci! Unfortunately, no, there is no particular temperature that is considered too hot for employees to work, even in a metal building. Employees in bakeries, commercial kitchens and founderies often work when it is 120 degrees or even hotter.

However, these working conditions may be unsafe if they present a risk of heat stress to employees. Our suggestion is that you contact OSHA at http://www.osha.gov and file a complaint, asking them to inspect your workplace. OSHA assesses each work situation on its own, and may very well determine that your employer is not taking reasonable precautions for worker safety. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who files a complaint. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Greg

July 1, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Hello,

My son worked for a sprayfoam insulation company that only does attics in existing (occupied) homes. The attic temps get to 130 to 140+ everyday by noon. They over schedule the crews to spray these attics all day long. They have worked from 7am til 8 or 9pm on several occassions. My son refused to go back out today after 3pm and spray another attic and was fired. They are in these hot attics for hours while they are spraying. This seems VERY unsafe to me since if one crew member collapses in the intense heat, the other crew member would have to try and wrestle a 220 pound body OUT of the hot attic, by himself, just to get medical treatment.

Amelia

July 2, 2010 at 9:03 am

Hi Greg! We agree that these are not ideal working conditions, but they are legal and probably meet OSHA worker safety standards. OSHA recommendations would be that the employees work in pairs, drink plenty of water and take frequent rest breaks in a cooler environment, such as outdoors.

You are incorrect about one thing. If the employee collapsed, all his partner would have to do would be to dial 911. The paramedics would take care of getting the employee out of the attic, and the employer would be responsible for any charges.
If your son feels that the working conditions are unsafe, he can certainly file a complaint with OSHA at http://www.osha.gov and they will inspect. However, simply working long hours in very hot temperatures does not constitute unsafe working conditions. By refusing to go back to work, your son has in effect quit this job. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

robert

June 18, 2014 at 10:46 pm

Hi my name is robert I work in a factory here in nc. On the warehouse temptures are almost 105 when the weather is 95 degress outside. Is it against the law to have only one water fountain threw out the plant that puts out warm water instead of cold? There have been many days where people have to sit down bc of heat strokes. We have reported the problem to our boss and nothing has been done about this. Theres no cold water threw the t besides in the main office.

Amelia

June 19, 2014 at 8:19 am

Robert, providing cold water or ice water to employees in hot conditions is certainly a best practice, although it is not required under OSHA standards. It sounds as if the employer is not taking the risk of Heat Stress seriously. Many employers don’t realize that heat stress can be as big a risk inside, as outside.

Our suggestion is that you share the materials at this site with your employer: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/edresources.html. Since your supervisor is not receptive, you probably need to approach HR, senior management or the safety committee. Do this in the spirit of “Heat Illness is a risk for the company, and I think we should reduce it while providing safe working conditions for employees.” Stress that different employees have different physical tolerances for heat.

Madeleine

June 20, 2014 at 10:06 pm

I am a waitress in SC, where the summers get very hot. The high will be 97F tomorrow afternoon. The front half of our resteraunt has no air conditioning for employees, and hasn’t been for the past year. The area is small with large windows and often crowded. On some days, a cashier is scheduled to stay in only this section for 3 hours while rushing back and forth, mostly without water breaks. There is no thermometer, but we have experienced heat cramps and almost all the servers have expressed a fear that someone will have a heat stroke. It feels unsafe, but I don’t know if it is illegal. Do I have grounds to file a complaint?

Amelia

June 23, 2014 at 4:44 pm

You have a valid complaint that the working conditions may be unsafe, particularly since the cashier is not allowed to drink water.

There is no law that an employer must provide an air conditioned workspace, even indoors. However, employers do have a legal obligation to provide safe working conditions to employees. That includes drinking water at least every 15 minutes, and taking frequent rest breaks in an area that is cool. Here’s the latest OSHA info on preventing heat stress: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html.

We suggest that you and your coworkers share that information with your employer. Emphasize that different employees have different levels of physical tolerance for heat, and that employees who need more rest breaks or water are not being wimps. In addition, everyone who has experienced heat cramps needs to report this to management–and to continue to report it, if it happens again. Hopefully, these steps will help management realize that they need to provide more rest breaks, allow employees to drink water, buy fans and maybe even get the air conditioning fixed.

If management is still unresponsive, then you might consider contacting the HR department, if there is one. If not, you could certainly file a complaint with OSHA. Often, just filing the complaint alone will encourage the employer to improve conditions.

June 26, 2014 at 1:04 pm

A lot of great information on this page! I just have a comment on the last question by Greg. I understand your answer Amelia, but what if Greg’s son’s employer schedules SO MUCH work that there isn’t enough time for breaks? If he’s working 12-14 hours and has 12 jobs and each job takes 60-90 minutes when is there time for a break to cool off? Would that in effect defy OSHA regulations of making the workplace a safe environment?

Amelia

July 4, 2014 at 8:49 pm

GTD, you bring up an excellent issue. Generally we agree with you…decent employers allow workers to take frequent rest breaks in the shade or a/c with a cool drink, if only because it reduces the employer’s risk.

The scheduling alone doesn’t constitute unsafe working conditions. (After all, it could be overcast and temperate, and Greg’s son might be able to get all the work done because he didn’t need any extra breaks to avoid heat stress.)

However, if temperatures soar, the son attempts to take breaks to cool off and is disciplined for it, obviously that’s a problem. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to prove unsafe working conditions due to heat stress, until someone gets heat stroke–which we would not wish on anyone. Ideally, Greg’s son would print out the info on Heat Stress, show it to his employer, and they would see the light.

I’m reluctant to defend an employer like this, but many bosses genuinely don’t realize that different employees have different physical tolerances for heat. At worst, they may interpret need for more frequent cooling breaks as laziness…which it obviously is not. I just posted an article 2 days ago that employees returning from vacation are at higher risk of heat illness.

If Greg’s son has discussed this situation calmly and respectfully with his supervisor, without any luck, then it may be time to go up the chain of command. Most employers have an advisory Safety Committee made up of both management and employees, that meets at least monthly. Greg’s son should submit a written request for them to review his issue…anonymously, if possible.

mike grosso

July 5, 2014 at 7:09 am

Ok so I work outside in the heat and do a very physical job I work 12 hours shifts we only got a 20 min break the one day we had two guys already with heat related issuses there is shacks outside we can get a break in but they give us a hard time if we go inside is there laws against this and what can I do thanks

Amelia

July 5, 2014 at 9:11 am

Yes, Mike there are literally laws against this. The federal OSHA regulations require an employer to provide safe working conditions for employees. If two workers have already been taken to the hospital with heat-related issues, then almost by definition the employer is not providing safe working conditions.

The first step is to try to talk to the employer calmly and respectfully about the danger of Heat Stress. It may help if you show them this website from the federal government https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html or print out some materials from it for them. Emphasize that different people have different physical tolerance for heat, so people who need extra water, rest and shade are not lazy. Approach this with the attitude of being helpful, “I want to make sure you’re aware of this problem so you can improve working conditions, because otherwise it’s a major liability for the company. It’s just a matter of time before someone gets a serious illness or dies.” If your supervisor is not receptive, try the HR department, upper management or the safety committee.

If that doesn’t work, by all means contact OSHA or your state worker safety organization. By law the employer cannot retaliate against you, and they have an obligation to report the injuries that have already occurred anyway.

Help

July 11, 2014 at 2:02 am

I know this article is old but I hope I still get a reponse. Anyway I live in Texas so it gets vary hot here. I work in a gentlemens club as the door girl. Where I am sitting, at the front desk has no a/c, but Inside the club it has a/c. Tempatures are well off into the 100s outside and it feels close to a 115 degrees in there if not more. I am able to get water or go inside (but not extended amounts of breaks make 5 mins to just use the restroom someone always has to be at the front). My managers feel bad for me and will not remain up there more the 5 minutes without breaking a sweat. I literally feel dizzy and like I’m going to passout from heat exaustion everyday, multiple times a day. Customers ask me how I stand the heat up there (they even had said let’s hurry up and get inside its hot in here). Yes I can get as much water I need and there is a tiny fan at the front that just blows hot air on you. There are two doors one that opens to the club and the front door (they keep the club door shut always and leave the front door open). In there defense they claim that if they turned on the a/c or some how got it open that people would think we were closed because the front door was shut. Baiscally I’m in a room that has no a/c, no wind flow, no nothing besides a itty bit fan. Sometimes I will walk out into the sun in 100 degree weather and it will still be a a lot cooler. So my question is this: can they do this because my job is admin work. It’s not like I signed up to be a construction worker and was expecting this heat. I threw up from the heat a few days ago. I’m going to pass out soon if these conditions continue.

Amelia

July 11, 2014 at 7:53 am

Hi Help, there are really two different questions here, so we’ll address both of them for you. First, you seem to assume that you are entitled to better working conditions than other employees because your work is “administrative.” This is not true. OSHA has one standard that covers all employees, whether you work in an air conditioned office or are a construction worker outside in the hot sun all day. In fact, you did “sign up” to work in an extremely hot space, although you may not have realized it at the time.

However, for any employee the employer has a legal obligation to provide safe working conditions. From your description, you may be suffering from Heat Stress, because one of the symptoms is nausea. Here’s a link to the NIOSH site with a list of symptoms of Heat Stress and Heat Stroke. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/.

Note that the employer doesn’t have any responsibility to provide comfortable working conditions…just conditions that do not make you physically ill.

If you are genuinely suffering from heat stress, then there are a number of options. One is allowing you to take frequent breaks in an air conditioned space, perhaps while being relieved by a supervisor. Ideally, these breaks would be more than 5 minutes long. A good length is 15 minutes. Another option would be for them to leave the inner door to the club open or partly open (to allow some air conditioning of your foyer) and use stanchions and a velvet rope to control access to the club. (This will be a bit more expensive, but probably not as expensive as the emergency room bill if an employee gets heat stroke.) You need to let your employer know, clearly but respectfully, that this is a worker safety issue and needs to be addressed. If they do not make arrangements to provide safer working conditions, then you should probably file a complaint with OSHA.

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