OSHA Announces Program to Protect Workers from Heat Hazards

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Employers should prepare for heat-related workplace inspections from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under a new program designed to protect indoor and outdoor workers from heat illness and injuries.

"For years, the agency investigated complaints of heat stress and heat illness and investigated hospitalizations and fatalities resulting from heat-related illness in the workplace," said Melanie Paul, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Atlanta. "These efforts have been mostly reactive. Now, OSHA intends to ramp up outreach and enforcement in an effort to eliminate heat hazards in the work environment with the new proactive initiative."

Under the National Emphasis Program (NEP), OSHA aims to eliminate or reduce worker exposures to occupational heat-related illnesses and injuries in general industry, construction, maritime and agriculture.

"The most important part of the program is that it targets specific industries and activities, such as working outdoors in areas announced by the National Weather Service to be undergoing a heat wave, or working indoors near radiant heat sources, such as foundries," noted Arthur Sapper, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Washington, D.C.  

High-Risk Industries

OSHA has targeted industries that have the highest potential to expose workers to heat-related hazards that may result in illnesses and death. The agency identified 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings, including the following:

 

OutdoorsIndoors
Farming and agricultureBakeries and restaurants
Construction (especially road, roofing and other outdoor work)Automotive parts, accessories and tire stores
Waste collectionFire services
Landscaping servicesIron and steel mills and foundries
Postal and package delivery servicesCertain manufacturing plants
Oil and gas well operationsWarehousing and storage facilities

 

"On days when the heat index is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will engage in proactive outreach and technical assistance to help stakeholders keep workers safe on the job," according to an April 12 announcement from the agency. OSHA noted that inspectors will address heat hazards during inspections, regardless of whether the employer is in an industry that is targeted by the NEP.

'Goal of a Federal Heat Standard'

Although federal OSHA does not have a standard specifically related to occupational heat exposure, some states do, including California, Minnesota and Washington.

Federal OSHA enforces heat-related safety under the Occupational Safety and Health Act's general duty clause, which requires employers to provide workplaces that are "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees."

Employers should also note that OSHA's Technical Manual Chapter on Heat Stress uses Wet Bulb Globe Temperature—a measure of the heat stress in direct sunlight—to determine when heat exposure hazards are present in the workplace.

Will OSHA develop a heat-specific standard in the near future? Paul noted that OSHA is in the early stages of rulemaking and issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking earlier this year to solicit information and data from stakeholders.

The NEP may further that goal. "This enforcement program is another step towards our goal of a federal heat standard," said Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. "Through this work, we're also empowering workers with knowledge of their rights, especially the right to speak up about their safety without fear of retaliation."

OSHA will hold a public meeting on May 3 to "discuss OSHA's ongoing activities to protect workers from heat-related hazards, including the Heat Illness Prevention Campaign, compliance assistance activities and enforcement efforts," the agency announced.

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