As a cold winter finally comes to an end, many of us look forward to summertime warmth. But while sun and heat may make for a fun day at the beach, they can spell danger for workers who are exposed to soaring temperatures and a rising heat index. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), thousands of workers in the United States get sick from excessive heat exposure while working outdoors each year and more than 30 workers died in 2012 from heat-related illnesses.
Although OSHA has no heat illness prevention standard, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (“OSH Act”), known as the General Duty Clause, requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. That includes protecting them from heat stroke and other serious heat-related illness. Of the “State-plan” states running their own safety programs under agreements with OSHA, only California and Washington currently have heat-related illness prevention standards. However, other State-plan states also have general duty clauses in their statutes which may be invoked to address these issues.