Heating Things Up: OSHA Launches National Emphasis Program on Outdoor and Indoor Heat Hazards

OSHA has published a notice on Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings.
By Jane Heidingsfelder
July 20, 2022

The safety world has been abuzz about the creation of a specific standard to protect workers from the hazards associated with extreme heat. On October 27, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) titled Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings.

This ANPRM kicks off the process of rulemaking to establish a specific standard on protecting employees from heat exposure. Most believe the impending standard will closely follow the Regional Emphasis Program of Region VI (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas) that has been in place for more than 20 years.

OSHA held a public stakeholder’s meeting on May 3, 2022, and has given stakeholders until August 1, 2022, to provide comments. As such, it is likely that there will not be a published standard before the end of the year. In fact, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Doug Parker recently testified it “could be challenging” to have a finalized standard by spring 2024. OSHA claims the new standard addresses concerns with the ongoing effects of climate change and the disproportionate number of low-wage workers and workers of color who are exposed to high levels of heat, intensifying socioeconomic and racial inequalities.

In the interim and to protect workers until the final standard goes into effect, OSHA launched its first National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat. The NEP, which went into effect April 8, 2022, targets the construction industry, among others. On days when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees (nearly every day in the South from May through September), OSHA inspectors are instructed to prioritize heat-related inspections. Compliance officers are conducting programmed inspections (those focused on heat) and are told to expand other inspections to include heat hazards where applicable. Inspectors have been told to be “vigilant” in conducting their inspections and to:

  • Review OSHA 300 logs and 301 reports for entries indicating heat-related illness.
  • Review records of hospital visits for evidence of heat-related issues.
  • Interview workers for symptoms of heat-related illness.
  • Determine whether the employer has a heat illness and injury program looking at key elements such as:
    --Was there is a written program?
    --How does the employer monitor ambient temperatures and levels of work exertion?
    --Do the workers have access to cool water?
    --Does the employer require hydration breaks and rest breaks?
    --Is there access to shaded areas?
    --Did the employer provide time for acclimatization of new and returning workers?
    --Is there a buddy system in place on hot days?
    --Were administrative controls used (earlier start times, job rotation) to limit heat exposure?
    --Did the employer provide training on heat illness signs, how to report signs and symptoms, first aid, how to contact emergency personnel, prevention and the importance of hydration?

While heat may be unavoidable at this time of year, the above steps may be taken to avoid the effects of heat.

If they have not done so already, employers should prioritize efforts to ensure that they are ready for their heat-related inspections by implementing the safety measures above to address hazards associated with heat. Although there is no specific standard at this time, OSHA will continue to issue citations under the General Duty Clause, requiring employers to furnish a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” While we do not yet know the exact language of the standard or when it may go into effect, the provisions of the NEP are a reasonable indication of what we can expect will be required going forward.

by Jane Heidingsfelder
Jane Heidingsfelder is a partner in the labor and employment practice group in New Orleans. She has extensive experience representing construction industry employers before the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). She helps develop, implement and update safety and health policies and procedures as well as defends employers that have been issued citations and penalties by OSHA.

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