OSHA enhances measures to address extreme heat hazards

As part of President Joe Biden’s interagency effort to address extreme heat, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced on Sept. 20 that it is initiating enforcement measures to protect workers in hot environments and reduce the dangers of exposure to ambient heat.  

“While heat illness is largely preventable, and commonly under-reported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure,” OSHA noted. “Despite widespread under-reporting, 43 workers died from heat illness in 2019, and at least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illnesses. Increasing heat precipitated by climate change can cause lost productivity and work hours resulting in large wage losses for workers.”

OSHA announced it 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. OSHA said in October it will move toward establishing a federal workplace heat standard by issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. The advance notice will initiate a public comment period.

California, Washington and Minnesota already have heat illness protection standards, while the House Education and Labor Committee has proposed legislation requiring federal OSHA to develop a standard.  

Meanwhile, OSHA’s newly established intervention and enforcement initiative prioritizes heat-related inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The initiative applies to indoor and outdoor worksites in general industry, construction, agriculture and maritime where potential heat-related hazards exist. 

“Employers are encouraged to implement intervention methods 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 noted.

Under the initiative, OSHA Area Directors across the nation will institute the following:
Prioritize inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals and employer-reported illnesses and initiate an onsite investigation where possible.
Instruct compliance safety and health officers, during their travels to job sites, 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 also is forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to identify and share best practices to protect workers.