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California is poised to protect people who work in poorly ventilated warehouses, steamy restaurant kitchens, and other indoor job sites where temperatures can soar to potentially dangerous levels. According to the report by KFF Health News, the state has had heat standards on the books for outdoor workers since 2005, and indoor workplaces are next.

If California adopts its proposal in the spring, businesses would be required to cool worksites below 87 degrees Fahrenheit when employees are present and below 82 degrees in places where workers wear protective clothing or are exposed to radiant heat, such as furnaces. If businesses are unable to lower the temperatures, they must provide workers with water, breaks, areas where they can cool down, cooling vests, or other means to keep employees from overheating.

Only two other states, Minnesota and Oregon, have adopted heat rules for indoor workers, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nationally, legislation has stalled in Congress, and even though the Biden administration has initiated the long process of establishing national heat standards for outdoor and indoor work, the rules are likely to take years to finalize.

Neither workers nor businesses are satisfied with the plan. Some businesses fear they won’t be able to meet the requirements, even with the flexibility the regulation offers. Workers argue buildings should be kept even cooler.

Although most instances of heat-related illness are relatively minor, severe cases can result in serious injuries and even fatalities. In California, 20 workers died from heat between 2010 and 2017, seven of them because of indoor heat, according to a 2021 study by the Rand Corp., which analyzed the state’s proposed indoor heat rules.

After a record-breaking heat wave in the Pacific Northwest in 2021, Oregon in 2022 adopted protections for indoor workers that trigger when temperatures hit 80 degrees. Minnesota’s threshold temperatures range from 77 degrees to 86 degrees, depending on the type of work. The sheer size of California’s workforce, estimated at about 18 million, could usher in changes for the rest of country, said Juanita Constible, senior climate and health advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

California regulators have crafted the indoor rules to complement the state’s protections for outdoor workers. Those say that when temperatures exceed 80 degrees, employers must provide shade and observe workers for signs of heat illness. At or above 95 degrees, they must come up with ways to prevent heat illness, such as reducing work hours or providing additional breaks.

The California Occupational Safety and Standards Board, which is charged with setting worker protections, is weighing the regulation that would require employers to cool their buildings with air conditioning, fans, misters, and other methods when the temperature or the heat index hits 82 or 87. Some employees would be exempt from the rule, including employees who work remotely and those involved in emergency operations.

On May 18, 2023, the Board held a Public Hearing to consider the addition of new section 3396 to the General Industry Safety Orders of title 8. The Board received oral and written comments on the proposed revisions. On August 4, 2023, another 15-Day Notice was issued. This second 15-Day Notice was a result of further comments from stakeholders and added Board staff consideration. The most recent comment period was closed on November 28, 2023.

The board is expected to vote on the rules in March, and they would take effect by this summer, board Chief Counsel Autumn Gonzalez said.