Do you have a question related to employment law, wage and hour issues, or human resources? Members can get free information from CBIA’s experts by calling 860.244.1900.
By Mark Soycher and Lynn Atkinson
CBIA human resources experts
Q: In discussing cost-saving strategies with employees, it was suggested we could save a bundle on electricity by cutting back on air conditioning this summer. Another employee objected, however, claiming it would be an OSHA violation if the temperature got too high. Is there a safety standard regarding permissible workplace temperature?
A: For general industry, there is no safety standard specifying an acceptable temperature range. The variability of work processes and environments, even within a single work site, makes government regulation of workplace temperatures impractical. Employees may experience high temperatures due to a variety of factors, including:
• Degree of ventilation
• Production operations or machinery that causes radiant heat
• High humidity
• Direct contact with hot objects
• Strenuous physical activity
• The need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE)
Worker sensitivity to heat will also vary due to age, physical fitness, acclimatization, metabolism, use of alcohol or drugs, medical history or condition, and the type of clothing worn. On a typical day in almost any workspace, you’ll see workers in various stages of comfort relative to temperature—some in short sleeves and still warm, others with sweaters and still cold.
Nonetheless, OSHA does view hot work environments and heat stress as recognizable hazards. (The agency has recently announced an aggressive campaign to prevent heat-related illness in outdoor workers.) Heat stress is most often regulated under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, which requires employers to furnish employees with “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
Although no standard exists to provide precise quantitative heat exposure levels, the OSHA Technical Manual used by the agency’s compliance safety and health officers contains a detailed section on heat stress, including signs and symptoms, preventative measures, and how employers are evaluated for compliance. More resources for preventing heat stress, including fact sheets and “Quick Cards” for employees, are available from OSHA.
As with other workplace hazards, OSHA’s approach to protecting workers against heat stress emphasizes first examining engineering controls, including making the work environment cooler by increasing ventilation, shielding equipment, and modifying work processes. Second, the agency recommends considering administrative controls and work practices, such as providing worker training, modifying schedules and production targets, and increasing monitoring and fluid intake. Finally, depending on the work environment, PPE can help reduce heat stress on the job.
Although some may minimize complaints of excessively hot work environments, the fact is that heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are serious health risks. So consider putting heat-related education, assessment, and monitoring high on your list of summer safety topics.
Cutting back on air conditioning may indeed be an appropriate strategy for reducing costs, but doing so to an extreme can expose workers to hazardous conditions and your company to OSHA enforcement headaches.
Q: We observe July 4 as a scheduled holiday, but we may need to have a few employees work that day. Are we required to pay them overtime?
A: There’s no requirement to pay employees overtime when they work on a holiday unless the additional hours result in the employee working more than 40 hours that payroll week.
Many employers do, however, pay employees time-and-a-half—plus the day’s holiday pay—when they work on a scheduled holiday. Some employers also count holiday time off as hours worked when they compute overtime for a week in which a holiday falls.
CBIA’s new Benefits Survey Report contains a wealth of information on compensation practices in Connecticut. To purchase the report, call 860.244.1900 or click here.