The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is initiating enhanced measures to protect workers better in hot environments and reduce the dangers of exposure to ambient heat. While heat illness is largely preventable and incidents widely under reported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure, agency officials contend. In 2019, they add, 43 workers died from heat illness and at least 2,400 others suffered serious effects tied to heat exposure.
Consequently, OSHA is implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards, developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections, and launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard. In addition, it is forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to provide better understanding of challenges and identify and share best practices to protect workers.
OSHA recently implemented an intervention and enforcement initiative—applicable to construction and general industry indoor or outdoor worksites—prioritizing work activity interventions and inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80°F. On days when temperatures indicate higher risk of heat-related illnesses, the agency 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; what to do when a worker suspects a heat-related illness is occurring; and, taking periodic measurements to determine workers’ heat exposure. Following last month’s announcements, OSHA Area Directors will:
• Expedite action on heat-related complaints, referrals and employer reported illnesses, initiating an onsite 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.
“Millions of workers face serious hazards from high temperatures both outdoors and indoors. The growing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events is increasing the dangers workers face,” says Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “My priority is to make sure we are taking appropriate action to keep workers healthy and safe on the job.”
“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,” adds Acting Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick.
OSHA will issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking this month on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. The action will initiate a comment period allowing the agency to gather diverse perspectives and technical expertise on topics including heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, exposure monitoring, and strategies to protect workers.