In order to address the hazards associated with extreme heat exposure in both the indoor and outdoor environments, the US Department of Labor has announced “enhanced and expanded” measures to address heat-related illnesses.
It is estimated that thousands of workers are injured, and dozens killed, annually as a result of workplace heat exposure. The Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center estimates the associated economic losses from heat could be at least US$100 billion annually.
Accordingly, OSHA advises 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”. Moreover, OSHA is forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to identify best practices to protect workers. The newly-established initiative prioritizes heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees F.
Employers are being encouraged to proactively implement intervention methods on heat priority days, including taking breaks for water, rest and 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.
In light of these initiatives, OSHA Area Directors are instructed to:
- Prioritize inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals and employer-reported illnesses, and initiate onsite investigations
- Instruct their compliance officers to conduct interventions, provide OSHA’s heat poster/wallet card, discuss the importance of easy access to cool water, cooling areas and acclimatization, and open inspections when they observe employees performing strenuous work in hot conditions
- Expand the scope of other site inspections to address heat-related hazards where they may exist
Additionally, OSHA is expected to issue in October 2021 an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. The notice will initiate a comment period allowing OSHA to gather stakeholder perspectives and technical expertise on relevant topics such as heat stress thresholds, acclimatization planning, exposure monitoring and worker protection strategies.
Finally, OSHA is establishing a National Emphasis Program on heat hazard cases which will target high-risk industries and focus agency resources and staff time on heat inspections.