The petition requests that OSHA require employers to provide employees with 15- to 45-minute rest breaks at certain heat thresholds, as well as provide access to shade and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as cooling vests and light-colored breathable fabric.
The petition also requests that OSHA require employers to create a "heat acclimatization plan," which would include a written heat alert program, instructor-led worker training and signage warning of the dangers of heat stress.
Finally, it requests that OSHA require employers to provide access to water and electrolytes and provide heat exposure monitoring and medical monitoring for workers exposed to heat above certain levels.
Currently, according to the petition, only California, Washington state, Minnesota, and the U.S. Military have heat protection programs in place.
However, according to Wes Wheeler, NECA's director of safety, OSHA already has the ability to enforce actions like these under its General Duty Clause. Furthermore, OSHA provides resources for contractors to help protect workers from heat-related illnesses.
"As such, it doesn't seem that any additional regulations would be needed," he said. "In addition, our contractors already do a good job of providing hydration and break times that are needed on these particular jobs."
Moreover, employees who do feel as though they are experiencing problems because of heat are instructed to report these concerns to their foremen.
Wheeler's concern is additional regulations wouldn't change these existing strategies and wouldn't accomplish the goal of protecting workers from heat-related illnesses.
"However, they could make it more difficult to perform on the job," he said. "For example, they could limit the amount of outside work that could be done on hot days during the summer, which could create a burden on employers to get projects completed."
Wheeler said one of NECA's primary missions is to support safe work conditions for employees.
"However, we do have some concerns about the language in this proposal," Wheeler said.
NECA and other trade associations appear to be watching this development to see how or if OSHA will respond. OSHA has stated it has received the petition and that it is under review. If OSHA determines a standard is necessary, it will begin the development process, which would involve soliciting input from advisory committees, other agencies, and the public.