On Jan. 13, while you were waiting for the hostages to come home and Ronald Reagan to be inaugurated, President Carter extended for nine months the emergency building temperature regulations of the Department of Energy, one of his programs designed to cut down on the use of oil. That meant that until Oct. 15, commercial, industrial and other nonresidential buildings would have to continue keeping their room temperatures at 65 degrees Fahrenheit when heating, and 78 degrees Fahrenheit when cooling. In addition, hot water temperatures would have to be kept below 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
From the first day that Carter proclaimed these rules effective, on July 16, 1979, there have been exceptions -- higher temperatures to protect the health of individuals in doctor, dentist or other health care offices, for example.
But the Jan. 26 Federal Register (page 8398) updates these regulations adding several new exemptions, including a major one for senior citizen centers. Proclaiming that "hypothermia" (subnormal body temperatures) is a greater danger for the elderly, the new rules allow a 70-degree Fahrenheit temperature to be maintained in "senior citizen centers providing nutritional, recreational, and other services. . . ."
In a stroke of bureaucratic genius, DOE then refused to take on an issue of exquisite sensitivity -- the particular age at which senior citizenship is attained. "Investigation into that is considered a standard, accepted age at which one becomes a 'senior citizen,'" DOE's notice said, "yielded a wide range of results from government and private agencies, benefit programs, medical authorities, and senior citizens themselves. . . . Therefore, 'senior citizen' has not been defined."
DOE did tackle another prickly problem -- the types of workplace showers and changing areas in commercial buildings that would be allowed to exceed the 65-degree level.
The purpose of this amendment is to exempt areas, the notice said, "where exposure of workers to potentially dangerous or irritating substances such as coal or other mining dust . . . would make it impractical or unhealthy for workers to leave the workplace before showering."
It was not intended to permit higher than 65-degree levels at "gymnasia, health clubs or similar establishments."