OSHA Sets Sights on Heat Illness Prevention

By Clarion Safety Systems | 29th Sep 2021

In 2019, across the United States, 43 workers died from heat illness and at least 2,400 others suffered serious effects. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is initiating enhanced measures to better protect workers in hot environments and reduce the dangers of exposure to ambient heat. While heat illness is largely preventable and incidents are widely under reported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure. According to the National Weather Service, extreme heat is the nation's leading weather-related killer.

Following a summer with record heat waves in the western United States, the Biden administration announced that OSHA will draft a rule governing heat exposure designed to protect those working outdoors as well as inside. The new enforcement initiative will prioritize work activity interventions and inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80°F; it applies to construction and general industry indoor or outdoor worksites. On days when temperatures indicate higher risk of heat-related illnesses, OSHA will increase enforcement efforts.

The regulation seeks to not only protect those who work outdoors in agricultural, construction, and delivery services, but also workers in indoor facilities like warehouses, factories, and kitchens.

A New NEP is in the Works
OSHA announced it will issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking next month in October on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. The notice will initiate a comment period on topics such as heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, exposure monitoring, and strategies to protect workers. The upcoming rule is projected to be about ventilation, along with the availability of water, break times, shade and cooling.

To accompany this, OSHA is also working to establish a national emphasis program on heat hazard cases, which will target high-risk industries. Although OSHA does not currently have a specific, federal standard addressing heat illness, the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act still applies.

Heat Mitigation Advice and Preparation For Employers
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.

Area directors from OSHA will be implementing the following steps nationwide over the coming months:

  • 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 jobsites, to conduct an intervention or open 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.

    Workplace Safety Professionals
    Risks are a reality across the industrial workforce, but by adhering to safety principles and using clear communication, heat illness and other temperature-related injuries can be avoided. Clarion Safety has a full line of standards compliant, best practice safety signs and labels to help alert your workers to dangers. If you’re looking for a custom option, get in touch with our customer service team, who’s trained to help design safety visuals that are suited to your unique needs.