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Labor and Employment Law

My Office Air Conditioning Broke In A Heat Wave. What Are My Rights?

The agency that regulates workplace safety is OSHA. If your workplace temperature has reached dangerous levels, OSHA might be able to help. In general, though, there's no law saying how hot is too hot.

OSHA's general recommendation is that temperatures at work be kept between 68-76° F with humidity control in the range of 20%-60%. However, don't call OSHA if your boss sets the A/C at 66 or 78. They don't regulate workplace temperatures unless it becomes so hot it's dangerous to workers.

If you think your workplace is hot, think about these industries, which OSHA points to as of particular concern for heat-related illnesses

iron and steel foundries, nonferrous foundries, brick-firing and ceramic plants, glass products facilities, rubber products factories, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, confectioneries, commercial kitchens, laundries, food canneries, chemical plants, mining sites, smelters, steam tunnels, farm work, construction, oil and gas well operations, asbestos removal, landscaping, emergency response operations, and hazardous waste site activities.

It's doubtful your office is reaching temperatures as hot as those super-hot workplaces, but if you live somewhere where temperatures are over 100° F, your office could possibly become dangerously hot.

OSHA has a heat index it uses to help guide employers on how to take measures to prevent heat-related illnesses. Over 103° F and it's time to take serious precautions. Over 115° F, and employees will drop like flies.

If your office is suffering a heat-related emergency, OSHA suggests making everyone aware of how to contact emergency rescue services, having clear directions to the worksite readily available so they can be given to rescuers, and having heat-related first aid instructions available for workers to assist while waiting for the ambulance. If your company hasn't made arrangements, take it upon yourself to become prepared if you are encountering excessive heat at work.

OSHA also offers guidelines for monitoring workers in hot workplaces to make sure they aren't becoming overheated. Techniques include regular measuring of weight (for water loss), temperature and heart rate.

Now that you realize your workplace probably isn't dangerously hot, you might want to look at bringing in fans, drinking lots of water, putting a cool, wet cloth on your forehead from time to time, and thanking your lucky stars you don't work in a foundry or bakery.

If your workplace is dangerously hot, you can contact OSHA and ask for an inspection. If you report dangerous working conditions to OSHA, you are a whistleblower, legally protected from retaliation. Don't wait until a coworker or you suffers heat stroke. It's better to report dangerous conditions and be wrong than to allow yourself or others to become dangerously ill.

See more employment law posts on Donna Ballman's blog, Screw You Guys, I'm Going Home

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