Workplace Temperatures Laws and Regulations

Topics: Small Business

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can’t completely resolve the thermostat conflict in your office, but they can require that employees operate in a healthy and safe work environment. OSHA understands that a comfortable temperature for one person might be too hot or too cold for another. Because of this, they cannot designate one specific workplace temperature; however, they do recommend that employers set the thermostat between 68 and 78 degrees. In some cases, state OSHA plans can differ from federal OSHA plans, so be sure to check the regulations for your state.

OSHA operates under the U.S. Department of Labor, which enforces federal laws and standards for workplace and employee safety. OSHA regulations come into play when temperatures reach an extreme level to the point where dangerous conditions like heat stress or hypothermia can occur.

Determining Extreme Temperatures

worker adjusting temperature in the workplace

By using a heat stress monitor, you can check conditions such as temperature, humidity or the amount of warmth radiating from a heat source. Conversely, freezing temperatures are easily identified using a thermometer. OSHA has also developed a smartphone application that gives employers and workers the ability to determine heat index and risk level for heat-related illness. It also offers recommendations for protection measures based on risk level.

A worker’s ability to maintain a safe body temperature ultimately determines the safety of an extreme temperature. OSHA states that the human body relies on its ability to get rid of excess heat (i.e., heat dissipation) to maintain a healthy internal body temperature. Heat dissipation happens naturally through sweating and increased blood flow to the skin. If heat dissipation does not happen quickly enough, the internal body temperature keeps rising and ultimately begins to affect a worker’s mental and motor skills.

What is considered “extreme cold” and its effects can vary, but a cold environment in general causes the body to work harder to maintain its core temperature. Whenever temperatures reach extreme levels, heat will leave the body more rapidly and can lead to serious health issues.


 

Heat Stress

Heat stress in the workplace occurs when the body cannot cool itself down and maintain a healthy temperature because the environment is just too hot. Some signs of heat stress include confusion, dizziness, profuse sweating, nausea or vomiting, rapid heart rate and more. OSHA provides additional detailed information on heat stress, heat-related illnesses and first aid.


Cold Stress

Working long hours in a cold environment can leave an employee susceptible to cold stress, which can result in several serious medical conditions. We previously mentioned that the body uses additional energy to maintain a proper core temperature. In extreme cold conditions, blood flow is shifted from areas like the hands, feet and the outer skin and redirected to the body’s core. When this happens, those areas are at an increased risk for frostbite, trench foot and hypothermia.

Frostbite is caused by freezing of the skin and the tissue underneath, resulting in severe damage that in some cases can lead to amputation. Trench foot occurs when feet are exposed to wetness in exceedingly cold temperatures, causing tissue and nerve damage, blisters and numbness. Much like frostbite, it can lead to amputation in extreme cases.

Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, resulting in a dangerously low body temperature, slowed breathing, disorientation and even death unless care is received immediately.

Protecting Employees from Unsafe Work Conditions

Making sure hot work environments have proper ventilation with fans and air conditioners, allowing employees to wear lightweight clothing, and providing a cool break area with cold beverages available are a few ways to help reduce the hazards of a hot work environment.

For cold work conditions, employees should be encouraged to wear warm clothing in layers, provided a warm location to take breaks and have their workload monitored so energy can be conserved, which allows their body to use additional energy for maintaining an adequate core body temperature.



The employer should formally monitor and document temperatures throughout the work areas and be prepared to take action when limits are reached.

AmTrust is Here to Help

Wars may still be waged over the thermostat, but at least OSHA has set some ground rules for maintaining a safe temperature for the workplace. For more information on workplace safety, check out the loss control section of our website or call 888.486.7466.

This material is for informational purposes only. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.
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