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Reducing Risk, Protecting People

OSHA’s Proposed Heat Standard Moves to the White House for Review

Posted by Clarion Safety Systems | 27th Jun 2024

As summer temperatures rise, so do concerns about heat-related illnesses for outdoor and indoor workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is taking critical steps in heat safety rulemaking. OSHA is poised to implement a new standard designed to safeguard employees from these dangers. We explore the need for such a standard, what it will likely entail, and how businesses can prepare.

Why a Heat Illness Prevention Standard?
Heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and other heat-related illnesses pose serious health risks for workers in construction, landscaping, warehousing, delivery, and many other industries. While OSHA currently lacks a specific heat standard, it can cite employers under the General Duty Clause for failing to protect workers from recognized heat hazards. However, enforcing such citations can be challenging.

The proposed standard aims to address this gap by establishing clear guidelines for employers to ensure worker safety through:

  • Temperature Triggers: Defined thresholds (likely based on heat index measurements) that activate mandatory safety protocols like increased hydration access, rest breaks, and administrative controls (e.g., adjusting work schedules).
  • Acclimatization Procedures: Gradual exposure plans for new or returning workers to allow their bodies to adjust safely to hot environments.
  • Mandatory Rest Breaks: Breaks with increased duration and frequency as temperatures rise.
  • Employee Training: Comprehensive training on heat illness prevention strategies, recognizing symptoms, proper hydration, and responding to emergencies.
  • Written Heat Illness Prevention Programs: Documented plans outlining specific heat safety measures tailored to each workplace.

In April 2022, OSHA launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to combat heat and protect workers in at risk industries from heat illness and injuries. This NEP has been renewed and is in effect until 2025. However, with more hazard alerts coming every year, it’s no surprise that OSHA has been prioritizing a new regulation to keep workers safe from the dangers of heat.

Preparing for the New Standard
While the specifics of the final standard are still under review, employers can take proactive steps, including:

  • Stay educated on workplace safety and aware of standards updates. OSHA also has a large collection of heat specific training materials available for free online. At Clarion Safety, we offer a range of educational materials on workplace safety and provide regular updates on compliance and safety topics – sign up for our newsletter now.
  • Continue to prioritize keeping workers safety from the dangers of heat: OSHA is reminding employers of the need for a heat safety and health plan, including provisions for acclimatization, water, shade, and rest. By prioritizing heat illness prevention measures now, employers can demonstrate their commitment to employee safety and ensure a productive summer season. Keep in mind that it’s still necessary to comply with OSHA’s General Duty Clause; while the new heat standard is being reviewed, OSHA can cite employers for heat-related violations under the General Duty Clause.

Current Status of the OSHA Heat Standard
On June 11, 2024, OSHA submitted its proposed standard to the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review. This is the final step before OSHA publishes the standard in the Federal Register for public comment. OIRA thoroughly reviews all proposed regulations, including compliance cost estimates and feasibility. While the review process has no deadline and may be length, the Biden administration's focus on worker safety from heat may expedite it. Still, it faces potential challenges in moving ahead, including:

  • Legal Challenges: OSHA might face difficulty proving the standard addresses a "significant risk" due to factors like regional temperature variations and the requirement for moderate or strenuous work alongside high heat for true hazard.
  • Employer Compliance Challenges: Implementing some provisions, like the step-wise acclimatization process, could be difficult for employers.

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