Did you know that there are specific temperatures and humidity standards that your workplace must adhere to? If not, then you are not alone. Many business owners are unaware of the fact that OSHA has regulations when it comes to the temperature and humidity in the workplace. In this blog post, we will discuss those standards and how you can ensure that your workplace is compliant.
First, you need to know that there are different standards for indoor and outdoor work environments. The temperature should be between 68 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit for indoor spaces, with no more than 50% humidity. If the temperature or humidity exceeds these levels, it can create a hazardous work environment.
You can ensure that your workplace meets these standards in several ways. First, you should install a reliable thermostat and ensure it is calibrated regularly. You should also have an accurate humidity monitor to keep an eye on the moisture level in the air. Finally, you should have a plan for dealing with extreme temperatures or humidity levels. This plan should include providing employees with breaks in a cooler area and having emergency procedures in case of an accident.
On December 17, 2001, OSHA withdrew its Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) proposal and terminated the rulemaking proceeding (66 FR 64946). However, the Agency still receives public inquiries about IAQ, primarily office temperature/humidity and smoking in the workplace. Therefore, we have summarized the Agency’s position and guidance on these topics. We are including language in the form of letters you can utilize when responding to complainants.
OSHA Temperatures and Humidity Standards
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t require employers to maintain specific temperatures in the workplace. The agency recognizes that a 75-degree Fahrenheit office might be comfortable for one employee but intolerable for another. To protect employees from working in uncomfortable temperatures, OSHA recommends that employers keep the thermostat between 68 and 78 degrees.
However, OSHA regulations kick in when temperatures are so severe that they could lead to heat stress, hypothermia, or other dangerous conditions. People who take medication are at greater risk for temperature-related health problems.
Generally, office temperature and humidity are matters of human comfort. OSHA has no regulations specifically addressing temperature and humidity in an office setting. However, Section III, Chapter 2, Subsection V of the OSHA Technical Manual, “Recommendations for the Employer,” provides engineering and administrative guidance to prevent or alleviate indoor air quality problems.
Air treatment is defined under the engineering recommendations as “the removal of air contaminants and/or the control of room temperature and humidity.” OSHA recommends temperature control in the 68-76° F range and humidity control in 20%-60%.
As a second source of guidance, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 55, Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy, addresses “thermal comfort” in an office environment, which means that an employee wearing a normal amount of clothing feels neither too cold nor too warm. This standard discusses thermal comfort within the context of air temperature, humidity, and air movement.
It provides recommended ranges for temperature and humidity that are intended to satisfy the majority of building occupants. These ranges vary for cold and hot weather. ASHRAE addresses ventilation and the removal of air contaminants in a separate standard, ASHRAE Standard 62, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality.
As you know, hazards for which OSHA does not have a specific standard are governed by Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the Act; General Duty Clause), which requires that employers provide employment and a place of employment that are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Citations for violations of the General Duty Clause are issued when the four components of this provision are present and when no specific OSHA standard has been promulgated to address the recognized hazard.
These four components are: 1) the employer failed to keep his/her workplace free of a “hazard”; 2) the hazard was “recognized” either by the cited employer individually or by the employer’s industry generally; 3) the recognized hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and 4) there was a feasible means available that would eliminate or materially reduce the hazard.
Office temperature and humidity conditions are generally a matter of human comfort rather than hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm. OSHA cannot cite the General Duty Clause for personal discomfort.
Extreme Temperature Measurements
To determine extreme temperatures, OSHA uses heat stress monitors to measure a work site’s temperature and humidity levels, air circulation, and the amount of heat radiating from a furnace, blower, or another heat source. How these factors affect a worker’s ability to maintain safe body temperatures determines how hot is too hot.
A body temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher signals trouble; it might mean the employee can’t perform her job adequately. If, for example, OSHA discovered that a bakery’s oven radiated enough heat to make a worker perspire profusely, it would require the employer to install a fan.
Heat Stress Disorders
The 1989 American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists defined heat stress as “the total net heat load on the body,” or, in simpler terms, the amount of heat the body is exposed to from an oven, furnace, or another external source, or from the body’s own heat-producing metabolism.
OSHA recognizes six heat stress disorders: heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition in which the body’s temperature-regulating system fails; heat exhaustion, which causes headaches, nausea, and vertigo; heat cramps, caused by the loss of salt from perspiring; heat collapse or fainting, which occurs when the brain’s oxygen supply is cut off; heat rash, caused by perspiration that doesn’t evaporate; and heat fatigue, which results in impaired mental and motor sensory skills.
Cold Stress Disorders
Exposure to freezing temperatures for long periods causes serious health conditions, like trench foot, which results from prolonged immersion in cold water or exposure to dampness, frostbite, and hypothermia. In severe cases, overexposure to cold temperatures, such as cold water immersion, can be fatal. Symptoms include slurred speech, uncontrolled shivering, confusion, and clumsiness.
OSHA recommends steps employers can take to protect workers. When heat is a problem, employers should keep work areas well-ventilated, using fans or air conditioners, relocate employees to cooler work spots, and provide cool rest areas for breaks. They should relax dress codes and encourage workers to wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing if necessary. They also should keep ample amounts of water and other beverages on hand so workers can replenish body fluids lost through perspiration.
Another OSHA recommendation is to start work shifts earlier to reduce workers’ exposure to the day’s hottest hours. To prevent cold stress, workers should wear warm, layered clothing that protects them from cold, wet, and windy conditions; take frequent breaks in warm, dry locations; and avoid exhaustion and fatigue, which depletes the energy needed to keep warm. Drinking warm beverages, avoiding caffeine, and eating high-calorie foods like pasta also can help prevent cold stress.
Excessive Heat and Humidity
Generally, office temperature and humidity are matters of human comfort. OSHA has no regulations specifically addressing temperature and humidity in an office setting. However, OSHA recommends removing air contaminants and/or controlling room temperature and humidity. OSHA recommends temperature control in the 68-76 degrees Fahrenheit range and humidity control in the range of 20%-60%.
Operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, or strenuous physical activities have a high potential for inducing heat stress in employees. These workplaces include iron and steel foundries, brick-firing and ceramic plants, glass products facilities, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, commercial kitchens, laundries, food canneries, chemical plants, mining sites, and smelters.
Outdoor operations conducted in hot weather, such as construction, refining, asbestos removal, and hazardous waste site activities, especially those that require workers to wear semipermeable or impermeable protective clothing, are also likely to cause heat stress among exposed workers.
In conclusion, OSHA has specific temperature and humidity standards for workplaces, with different guidelines for indoor and outdoor environments. While there are no specific regulations for temperature and humidity in office settings, OSHA recommends maintaining a comfortable range of 68-78 degrees Fahrenheit and 20%-60% humidity.
Extreme temperatures and humidity levels can lead to heat stress or other health hazards, and employers are advised to protect workers from these conditions. Employers need to prioritize the well-being and safety of their employees by implementing appropriate controls and providing necessary breaks and accommodations when temperature and humidity levels exceed recommended standards.