Federal Guidelines for Workplace Temperature
Although federal law doesn’t specify a temperature for every workplace, the law does have some rules for employers who have employees working in extreme temperatures.
What are the Federal Guidelines for Workplace Temperature?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes that a comfortable temperature differs person to person. Therefore, OSHA does not regulate workplace temperature, but OSHA does recommend that employers keep the thermostat set between 68 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. OSHA will step in if temperatures are so severe that employees are risking their health.
How are Extreme Temperatures Measured?
When testing extreme temperatures, OSHA uses heat stress monitors to check temperature, humidity, air circulation, and the amount of heat radiating from heat sources. Meanwhile, freezing temperatures are much more easily spotted with a thermometer. Determining the safety of an extreme temperature is based on a worker’s ability to maintain a safe body temperature. A body temperature that exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will tamper with an employee’s ability to perform his or her job.
Example: OSHA visits a pottery kiln and discovers that the heat of the kiln is causing workers to sweat profusely. OSHA requires that the pottery kiln install a few fans.
Heat Stress Disorders
When the body is exposed to an excessive amount of heat, the body can endure a few different types of heat stress disorders. However, some can be fatal.
Heat stroke – the body’s temperature regulation system fails
Heat exhaustion – symptoms include headaches, nausea, and vertigo
Heat cramps – excessive perspiring causes loss of salt
Heat collapse or fainting – brain’s oxygen supply is cut off
Heat rash – perspiration that stays on the skin and doesn’t evaporate
Heat fatigue – a condition that impairs mental and motor sensory skills
Cold Stress Disorders
Extended amounts of time in freezing temperatures can cause many serious health conditions. And just like heat stress disorders, cold stress disorders can also be fatal.
Trench foot – condition that stems from immersion in cold water
Frostbite – when the skin and tissue just under the skin freeze
Hypothermia – when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat
OSHA Protections for the Workplace
While OSHA does not regulate workplace temperature or call a truce for the thermostat wars, OSHA does recommend certain protections to employers for workplace temperature. Employers are obligated by the law to protect the health and safety of employees. Therefore, wise employers use the recommendations of OSHA to maintain a healthy work environment.
Recommendations for Hot Environments
When a workplace becomes too hot, this can be a health hazard. However, the below steps can help alleviate the heat and protect workers.
Fans or air conditioners to help circulate air
Relocate workers to cooler spaces
Dress code: encourage lightweight and loose-fitting clothes
Provide plenty of water
Adjust shift hours to avoid the hottest parts of the day
Recommendations for Cold Environments
Workers who are exposed to freezing temperatures while doing their duties must take care of themselves as well. Employers should try to provide the following things as well to help ensure optimal work performance.
Dress code: warm, layered clothing
Frequent breaks in heated and dry locations
Drink hot, non-caffeinated beverages
Eat high calorie foods
Encourage the buddy system
Pennsylvania State Temperature Recommendations
In some cases, states might improve upon the standards that OSHA sets out for extreme temperatures for workers. Pennsylvania has not added any rules or regulations to the recommendations laid out by OSHA. This means that employers in Pennsylvania only need to adhere to OSHA rules and not any additional state laws on extreme temperatures.
Employee Health and Safety Rights
Thermostat wars are a reality of most workplaces and homes. However, safety is non-negotiable. While OSHA does not set a specific temperature for workplaces, it does require that workers have a safe and healthy workplace. Therefore, all employers are obligated to display the OSHA poster outlining employee rights.
When an employee feels that their work environment is dangerous due to extreme temperature, that employee is protected by the law to make a report to OSHA and request an OSHA inspection. Employees are protected from discrimination and retaliation from reporting an unsafe workplace. Protect your health by knowing your OSHA safety and health rights.
If you are working in an unsafe work environment, contact an employment lawyer who will know how to navigate your case and your rights under the law.