Workplace Temperature Regulations: Cal/OSHA Takes the Lead


Workplace temperature regulations are difficult to find — but that doesn’t stop workers from dying of heat-related illness, and it doesn’t stop your company from being found negligent in the duty you have to protect your people.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimate puts the annual death rate from heat-related conditions in the United States at over 650, but research reported in the journal of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology studied 297 counties in the United States (about three-fifths of the population) and found an average of more than 5,600 deaths each year from heat-related conditions. That’s nearly a nine-fold difference. Apply the same math to the 436 work-related deaths reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics since 2011, and the actual figure for workplace deaths from heat related illnesses may be closer to 4,000.

Whether you count annual mortality from heat illness in the hundreds or in the thousands, it’s an issue that is not only serious, but is largely preventable. Federal OSHA rules on heat injury and illness prevention are in process (and have been for years), the states of Washington, Oregon, and Minnesota have laws specifically aimed at heat exposure, the attorney generals of several states petitioned the federal OSHA administrator to enact an emergency rule, but California will soon take the lead for regulations aimed at heat illness prevention for indoor environments.

California OSHA Heat Laws: Latest Updates

The public hearing and 45-day comment period for the new Section (3396) of California’s General Industry Safety Orders are complete, and the 15-Day Notice comment period ended August 22, 2023. Barring unforeseen action by the state, it appears the California Heat Illness Prevention in Indoor Places of Employment update will soon be law — though modifications could occur prior to the adoption.

Here are the primary changes to the California indoor workplace temperature regulations:

  • The law will apply to indoor work environments that reach or exceed a temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit when workers are present. Additional requirements will apply at 87 degrees or higher, when heat-restricted clothing is required, or the environment is considered a “high radiant heat area.”
  • Employees must have access to potable drinking water without cost to the employee. At a minimum, each employee must be provided one quart per hour.
  • Employers must provide cool-down areas for employees. Use of the area must be encouraged by the employer and anyone experiencing symptoms of heat illness must be monitored.
  • The employer must monitor the temperature and heat index, keep accurate records of those recordings, and evaluate all risk factors for heat illness. Those records must be made available to employees.
  • Control measures must be used to reduce environmental risk factors for heat illness. Methods may include engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal heat-protective equipment.
  • Effective emergency response procedures must be implemented and employees must be closely observed while acclimating to higher heat levels. First aid must be rendered to any employee displaying heat illness symptoms.
  • Employees must be effectively trained in topics related to heat illness, including personal risk factors, environmental risk factors, and the heat load burden they face from exertion, clothing, and personal protective equipment. Supervisors must also be trained to understand and implement the regulations.
  • The employer must establish, implement, and maintain an effective Heat Illness Prevention Plan. If the majority of employees are not English speakers, the plan must be written in the language they understand.

The list above is a high-level summary of the updates soon to take effect. FACS urges all California employers to read the new regulation and get prepared for it quickly. You’ll find it under Title 8, Division 1, Chapter 4. Here’s a link to that document.

Indoor Workplace Regulations: FACS Expert Remarks

FACS industrial hygienists understand the workplace regulations — both new and old — and can help your company get on board with them. While we’re in agreement with the updates as written, we do see a few concerns.

  • The temperature and heat index measurements provide cookie-cutter data. Working conditions can vary significantly across industries and environments. The standard does not provide guidance on how work loads can impact an individual’s susceptibility to heat-related illness.
  • Cool-down areas are poorly defined and open to interpretation. Employees may not feel comfortable telling their coworkers and/or supervisor that they need to take a rest. They may feel peer pressure or supervisory retaliation. Rest times are also subjective and may lead to similar problems. Establishing mandatory time limits for breaks via use of “Work/Rest Schedules” or “Stay Times” is a well-established control method and is widely supported by NIOSH and ACGIH. In other words, all employees should get regular rest and cool-down opportunities … not just those who request it.
  • The tools needed to assess thermal conditions do not measure heat as accurately as a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) device. The WBGT measurement accounts for all major environmental heat factors, rather than relying on temperature and humidity only.

Our concerns aside, the new Cal/OSHA workplace temperature regulations are a definite step forward in protecting workers against environmental hazards. We’ve noticed that companies that develop and maintain a viable safety program reap the benefits from it. Certainly, they are less likely to see employees suffer lost-time accidents or get fined by regulatory agencies — but the rise in employee trust and job satisfaction is perhaps the biggest return. When your employees know you are taking care of them, they are more likely to return the favor and help take care of your business.

There’s plenty more to the updated Cal/OSHA heat illness regulations than we’ve described above. Make sure you understand the law and can adopt the guidelines. These will quite likely be in effect soon. FACS experts can come alongside your team to make sure you’re in compliance and to conduct the necessary training.

For help, use the Contact form on our website or call us now at (888) 711-9998.