The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates workplace standards for health and safety per the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970. The law requires employers to provide hazard-free working conditions. OSHA regulations for temperature in the workplace include recommendations on temperature and requirements for mitigating the dangers of extreme conditions. Some states, such as California, Washington and Minnesota, have adopted laws that provide workers with extra protection.
Current OSHA Regulations for Temperature in the Workplace
As of 2020, OSHA recommends that businesses maintain an operating temperature between 68 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit.
Flexibility in Temperature Regulations
OSHA's temperature working conditions, including cold and hot temperature recommendations, aren’t set in stone. The administration recommends a safe range for indoor temperatures. They also provide recommendations for preventing and responding to cold- and heat-stress.
What’s the maximum temperature in which someone can work without the temperature considered to be too hot for safety’s sake? Someone's current health, hydration, age and exertion factors all factor into the equation.
OSHA encourages employers to use a wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) meter. This device measures general environmental heat impact on workers. When complaints arise, this device is one of the methods used to determine workplace compliance.
What’s the Maximum Temperature Allowed in Summer?
In 2005, California legislators passed AB 805, Heat Illness Prevention and Response. The law set OSHA standards for employers with outdoor employees. Provisions include access to shade, drinking water and frequent breaks at high temperatures. Washington and Minnesota also have passed heat-safety laws. By 2020, several states were voting on their own versions.
The United Farm Workers Foundation sued California for expanded coverage. The state settled in 2015. The suits led to protection for more workers and the establishment of a hotline for reporting violations. In 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill for heat protection as well.
What’s the Maximum Temperature Allowed in Winter?
Extreme temperatures mean different things when comparing two different seasons. For OSHA temperature working conditions, cold stress is not the only worry. Not only is the threat of hypothermia a concern, but slips and falls are more common. According to OSHA, they make up 15 percent of all accidental deaths on the job.
Other serious cold-related injuries include:
- Trench foot.
The administration recommends a similar approach in avoiding cold-related illness and injury. Guidelines encourage business owners to keep weather trends in mind when making schedules. Workers should have adequate clothing, access to warm areas and the ability to take frequent breaks. Businesses also should prepare to deal with cold-related injuries as soon as possible.
What About OSHA Office Temperature Regulations?
The same rules that apply to outdoor workers apply to people who work indoors. OSHA office temperature regulations relate only to safety, not comfort. It's legal for businesses to be so cold that workers need winter gear indoors. Employees need to speak up when they are not well.
Groups of employees also should feel comfortable telling their supervisors they're uncomfortable. Studies show hot and cold temperatures have an impact on productivity. Besides meeting OSHA office temperature regulations, business owners may want to solve comfort issues to improve worker performance.
At What Temperature Can I Legally Leave Work?
OSHA doesn’t set a specific temperature for working conditions. They recommend a safe range, but that doesn’t mean employees should put themselves at risk when those conditions are met. Workers should notify a supervisor and seek relief as soon as they recognize the signs of a problem.
Signs of heat-related stress include:
- Hot, dry skin.
- Profuse sweating.
- Body temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Signs of cold-related stress include:
- Extreme shivering.
- Loss of coordination.
- Dilated pupils.
- Blue skin.
Does that mean an employer can't fire an employee for not working in those conditions? No, but the fired employee probably has a basis for a lawsuit.
According to OSHA, 60 people died in 2018 because of exposure to extreme heat and cold on the job. Employers need to protect their workers and themselves by following OSHA recommendations for temperature working conditions. It’s important to encourage practices that avoid temperature-related stress and to have measures in place to immediately address any problems.