To combat hazards associated with extreme heat exposure – both indoors and outdoors – OSHA will enact enhanced measures to protect workers better in hot environments and reduce the dangers of exposure to ambient heat. Heat illness is a well-known work hazard that is largely preventable, yet thousands of workers become ill each year due to workplace heat exposure. In 2019, 43 workers died from heat illness while another 2,410 suffered serious injuries and illnesses.
OSHA is implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards, developing a national emphasis program (NEP) on heat inspections, and launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard. The agency will also form a working group within its National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health to identify and share best practices. The agency notes that the initiative will prioritize heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
“While agricultural and construction workers often come to mind first when thinking about workers most exposed to heat hazards, without proper safety actions, sun protection and climate-control, intense heat can be harmful to a wide variety of workers indoors or outdoors and during any season,” says Jim Frederick, Acting Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health.
The initiative applies to indoor and outdoor work sites in general industry, construction, agriculture and maritime where potential heat-related hazards exist. On days when a recognized heat temperature can result in increased risks of heat-related illnesses, OSHA will increase enforcement efforts.
“Employers are encouraged to implement intervention methods on heat priority days proactively, including regularly taking breaks for water, rest, shade, training workers on how to identify common symptoms and what to do when a worker suspects a heat-related illness is occurring, and taking periodic measurements to determine workers’ heat exposure,” OSHA states.
Under the initiative, area directors will:
- Prioritize inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals and employer-reported illnesses and initiate an on-site investigation where possible.
- Instruct compliance safety and health officers to conduct an intervention (providing the agency’s heat poster/wallet card, discuss the importance of easy access to cool water, cooling areas and acclimatization) or opening an inspection when they observe employees performing strenuous work in hot conditions.
- Expand the scope of other inspections to address heat-related hazards where worksite conditions or other evidence indicates these hazards may be present.
The agency expects to issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in October 2021. This will initiate a comment period during which OSHA to gather input and expertise on key issues related to heat illness.
The agency is also working to establish an NEP that will target high-risk industries and focus agency resources and staff time on heat inspections. It will build on the existing program operating in OSHA’s Region VI, which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.