Debate about federal heat standards for manufacturing companies begin

After several months of inaction, OSHA seeks input from manufacturers about indoor heat

A worker wipes her head of sweat.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has begun the process of collecting comments about a possible indoor heat standard for manufacturers. Meanwhile, many manufacturing groups don't see the need for such regulation. FG Trade/E+

The Biden administration is picking up its regulatory efforts to force companies to reduce temperatures in indoor work environments, such as manufacturing facilities.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has scheduled upcoming discussions about how these new workplace heat standards could affect small businesses. As part of its process, the OSHA is holding Small Business Advocacy Review Panel meetings this summer.

In October 2021, the agency started—via an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR)—to develop a potential standard for workplaces to prevent heat illness and injury in outdoor and indoor environments in general industry and in the construction, maritime, and agriculture industries. But the agency had not moved forward subsequently.

It is under some political pressure to do so from members of Congress and public interest groups. OSHA has received three petitions to implement a heat standard from Public Citizen and supporting organizations, in 2011, 2018, and 2021. In August 2021, OSHA received a request for rulemaking from members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both chambers of Congress also had pending legislation in the 2021-2022 legislative session that would order OSHA to develop and implement a federal heat standard. But there has been no progress on Capitol Hill, ostensibly forcing the OSHA’s hand.

When it issued its ANPR in 2021, OSHA cited the four states that had enacted hazardous heat standards requiring employers in various industries and workplace settings to provide protections and abatement measures to reduce the risk of heat-related illness for their employees: California, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington. The latter is the only state to have an indoor standard, which triggers protection and action by the employer when indoor temperatures hit somewhere between 77 degrees F to 86 degrees F based on workload.

Other states have proposed heat standards. Groups including the American Industrial Hygiene Association assailed the draft standard proposed in October 2022 by the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency because they felt it was too weak.

Industry groups opposed an OSHA standard when the agency issued the ANPR in 2021. Dan Walker, managing director of the Industrial Fasteners Institute, wrote: “In summary, IFI does not believe an indoor heat standard is necessary because employers are already implementing appropriate mitigation measures when appropriate, and the fastener industry does not have a record of heat-related injuries. These mitigation measures and current OSHA standards and guidance regarding heat prevention strategies are adequate.”

Miles Free, director, industry research and technology, at the Precision Machined Products Association, explained that in a December 2021 survey of association members, respondents indicated they do not have heat-related challenges in their shops or have already taken steps to mitigate potential risks in the facility.

“Taking all survey respondents together, employees worked 29.9 million hours over the past five years with only a single instance at a single shop reporting a heat-related incident,” Free explained. “When it comes to manufacturing, this proposed rule is simply a solution in search of a problem that does not exist in the precision machining industry.”

OSHA established a national emphasis program on heat inspections targeting high-hazard industries in April 2022. Among the North American Industry Classification System industry sectors identified for inspections were Other Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing, Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturing, Aerospace Product, and Parts Manufacturing to name just a few.

About the Author

Stephen Barlas

Contributing Writer

Stephen Barlas is a freelance writer that has more than 30 years of experience covering Congress, the White House, and the many regulatory agencies found in Washington, D.C. He has covered issues affecting the metal fabricating industry for The FABRICATOR for more than a decade.