2024 Resolution for OSHA: Propose A Workplace Heat Standard

OSHA should resolve to get a proposed workplace heat standard out for public comment before 2024’s hot weather starts.


Ross Pollack, Creative Commons / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED

Extreme heat took an awful toll on workers in 2023, causing illnesses and deaths in Texas, Illinois, Tennessee, North Carolina, and beyond. These brutal temperatures weren’t a one-off; they were a harbinger of even worse conditions to come across the United States, even if we slash the pollution causing climate change. And we are not ready. The Biden-Harris administration has repeatedly committed to protect workers as part of its whole-of-government approach to extreme heat resilience (e.g., here, here, and here), but U.S. workers are still waiting for OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to finish heat safeguards the agency started working on in late 2021

OSHA completed a congressionally mandated small business review of regulatory options in late 2023, which is a big step toward a formal standard. Now, in the spirit of “New Year, New You,” OSHA should resolve to get a proposed rule out to the public before heat season starts. 

NRDC and 32 other organizations across the country said as much to the agency in a joint comment letter in December about the small business review. We urged OSHA to stay the course on heat protection measures that have been on worker wish lists for decades—including specific water, shade, rest, training, and emergency response protocols. 

Here are four other elements OSHA should include in its New Year’s resolution to keep the U.S. workforce healthy and safe from heat. 

1. Nurture human connections

OSHA should give workers opportunities beyond the regulatory docket to provide meaningful input on the heat standard, such as focus groups, town halls, and other formats that can be conducted in multiple languages and outside regular business hours. But as we said in our letter, engagement needs to continue after the rule is proposed and finalized. OSHA should require employers to develop and regularly revise heat protection plans with the input of workers and their representatives.


USDA, Public Domain

2. Incorporate flexibility…carefully

Small-business representatives expressed concern to OSHA about overly restrictive requirements that might not be compatible with their regular operations. Some of those concerns are valid, and OSHA should consider where and how to give employers multiple options for keeping workers safe from heat. However, flexibility can go too far—such as some employers’ requests to determine their own temperature thresholds for triggering heat standard requirements. Flexibility and self-regulation is the status quo now, and recent history shows that’s not enough. 

3. Write it down

One of the hallmarks of a good resolution is having it in writing for accountability. The same thing goes for good workplace heat protection plans. At a minimum, OSHA should require employers to document their plans for keeping workers safe from heat, their data from temperature monitoring, and their training sessions for workers. (Looking at you, U.S. Postal Service.) 


USDA, Public Domain

4. Stay strong

Finally, OSHA should stay strong on developing a heat standard in the face of naysayers who claim we don’t need one at all. Heat is an old, old problem for workers; one that U.S. medical journals have recognized since at least 1895. As we wrote in our joint comment, the heat experience of one company, or one industry, or even one federal database doesn’t tell the full story. 

Farm, construction, warehouse, airline, and restaurant workers—just to name a few—are all feeling the heat. It’s past time for OSHA to protect them. 

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