By: Christina Trueba, Executive Notes and Comments Editor, J.D. Candidate, May 2019, St. Thomas University School of Law.

Being from Miami, Florida, I, like so many that live here, am used to the heat. However, many of us are accustomed to leaving our air conditioned home, getting into our air conditioned car, to then arrive at another air conditioned place, where we spend the greater part of our day. Work days usually begin at nine in the morning and end at around five in the evening, concluding that they last about eight hours give or take. Now imagine that your destination, was not another air conditioned location, but required you to be outside, or in a hot delivery truck loading and unloading boxes, or in a kitchen with 400 degree ovens on all day.

It is in those types of work environments that workers are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. Health threats due to high temperatures include confusion, fatigue, and dehydration, as well as heat stroke and organ failure in more extreme heat. Due to rising temperatures, there has been an urge for the United States to implement rules to protect workers from heat. The National Institute for Occupational Safety has repeatedly asked that the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) set standards that hold the employers accountable if measures are not taken to prevent heat stress in the work environment.

Currently, OSHA relies heavily on its a general duty clause. The clause has been interpreted by the courts to mean that employers have a legal obligation to provide a workplace “free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard.” OSHA has also recommended methods to prevent heat-related illnesses, such as having air conditioning or fans in the work place, rescheduling work to cooler times in the day, and the use of protective equipment such as insulated suits or gloves, and infrared reflecting face shields. Although OSHA has a general duty clause and suggests preventive measures, none of the recommended methods are enforceable. Due to the unenforceability of OSHA’s campaign to keep workers safe, 130 organizations and 90 individuals are petitioning OSHA to issue regulations aimed at protecting workers from heat-related illnesses.

With temperatures on the rise, it is OSHA’s duty to implement regulations that set a standard for heat stress in the work place. As of right now, the only entities with formal regulations are California, Minnesota, Washington, and the United States Military. If OSHA does not implement regulations, it would be up to the individual state to set their own standards to protect workers from heat-related illnesses.