It’s Getting Hot in Here…Maybe Not

Approximately ten years ago, California led the country when it adopted outdoor heat illness regulations that specify safety procedures an employer must take for workers who work outside during high heat temperatures, defined as 95 degrees or higher. California is seeking to lead once again, with proposing indoor heat illness regulations that would impose safety procedures an employer must implement when any indoor work areas reach a temperature of 87 degrees or higher. This literally could include almost any office building, restaurant, warehouse, or even a work vehicle that is parked in the sun for too long. But is that necessary?

Under the recently released proposal, the indoor heat illness regulations and its accompanying mandates would be triggered anytime a work area reaches 87 degrees. While this may seem reasonable for certain industrial areas where they are manufacturing products under high heat, it does not seem as reasonable when applied to a regularly air conditioned office building. For example, on the weekends when an office building is generally vacant, the air conditioning is usually turned off to save on energy costs, and during the summer months, can potentially reach 87 degrees. If one worker enters the building to pick up a file, letter, or even work for a limited time period, the employer would now be covered under the indoor heat illness regulations. Similarly, as defined in the proposal, an “indoor” work area could also include a vehicle that is equipped with air-conditioning. If the interior of the car reaches 87 degrees or higher simply because the employee parked it in the sun during lunch hour and then got in without airing it out first, the employer would be covered under the indoor heat illness regulations.

Once triggered, the indoor heat illness regulations require an employer to take all sorts of measurements and temperatures including the air temperature, humidity, radiant heat, conductive heat, and air movement. Pretty sure most employers in a regularly air conditioned office building would not have the first idea of how to measure air movement or radiant heat. And what the heck is conductive heat? After taking these measurements, an employer would then have to implement engineering and administrative controls to reduce the indoor temperature to less than 87 degrees as well as make sure there is a cool down area that is exclusively used for allowing employees to cool down and is always maintained at a temperature of less than 82 degrees.

The indoor heat illness regulations also require training, evaluation of employee clothing, document retention, access to water, and monitoring of employees. It’s a lot. Especially for work areas that have regular access to air conditioning and do not pose even close to the same risk level of heat exposure as working outside in the fields during the high heat of summer. California is always a leader in the labor and employment arena, but this may be an area where it needs to turn down the heat on employers and narrow the proposal to address any actual risk of heat exposure indoors.

Jennifer Barrera, Executive Vice President