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Friday, August 24, 2012

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.


  1. ahhhh, these are getting better with each post, Donna. :)

    i could just imagine some guy coming home to a nice hot supper and complaining to his wife that he is going to sue his boss because he had to work all day in a hot office with no a/c without any thought that his wife had just spent her day in a hot kitchen preparing the meal he was about to eat. :)

    1. In 2015, who has a wife that stays at home preparing her husband's dinner? Heck, I don't know of a couple that has a stay at home parent to take care of their own kids (even though the cost of daycare pretty much absorbs one salary in a household in NY) Everyone works, and complains ...But good imagination. Anyways- 85 degrees in the office and 20 degrees and snowing outside. Broken AC unit for roughly 3 weeks... about 100 employees on this floor working within a closely spaced cubicle farm.

    2. Funny, I'm a stay at home wife/mother.... I was looking up potential hazards because my husband's company is operating without AC right now :/ it's over 98 degrees in a factory setting right now :/ I don't think the guys should be working under those conditions without any air flow.

  2. I work in an office that has no windows what so ever.. The only ventilation for the whole building is the front door and back door. This building is about 300ft by 300ft give or take. And our island average temperature for the whole year is about 89-90 degrees. In this building is probably hotter than it is outside. In our cubicle, we only have a door as ventilation. We have 4 fans (provided when aircond quit working) in the our space and it is still blowing hot and what seems like dry air. (feel like can't catch my breath at times). Our aircond quit working on Tuesday and now it's a Sunday and they still don't know when aircond will be available again.. They are just waiting on some parts to come in which could take 3 to 4 days or even a week or two. We are 24 hours in operations because we are dispatchers. What can I do to at least encourage these guys to supply us with portable type aircond or move us elsewhere more pleasant or atleast just a little cooler place. Heat can be very Stressing....

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  6. Is it the same for LLCs? My office is my bosses house. They have no AC and it's in the 80s-90s

  7. This is why we lose against other countries in business. These other people will work harder than US. Do you think the Chinese will complain to the government about their working conditions?

  8. How about a work place with no heat, in Ohio and it's 14F outside??? The windchill was -4 last week! The facilities don't work and they won't fix it. Port-a-potties outside or employees are told to go to a nearby McDonald's!!!!! This is absolutely ridiculous!!! People can complIn all they want about socialist countries.... But at least they aren't treated like crap over there!!!!!!

  9. What if its only 54° at ur work because the heat has been broken for a month and its been snowing?

  10. I work in a manufacturing plant with no air conditioning, in the summer it gets HOT, plus I'm moving around a lot, crawling underneath machinery to do repairs, lifting heavy gears, shafts, etc. It kinda cracks me up when office workers moan about no a/c when it's a fact of life for many of us. Suck it up and realize that you have it easy compared to some of us.

  11. I once worked in a foundry. If you don't know what a foundry is they take aluminum that's in the block form and heat it up until it's about 700-800 degrees in these large furnaces. Well it would be 120-130 degrees then we had to wear coats to cover our arms at all times due to the aluminum splashing. it was the hottest job I've not only done but even also even seen. they said it isn't unusual with that coat on it feels like 150 degrees. I was NEVER so glad when I quit there. It was some what nice management(they always greeted us each morning) however when we would ask for extra breaks due to the heat they'd say no. The heat the largest reason why I left. they had 4 or 5 large aluminum melters and typically 3-4 of them were running just throwing hit off them all the time. when I'd have to fill my bucket with aluminum I had to stand by the melter. I was on that platform maybe 5 minutes. I struggled to do that because it was so hot


I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.