OSHA Moves Closer to Developing National Heat Standard

OSHA Moves Closer to Developing National Heat Standard

In a recent press release, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it will expand efforts to combat heat-related illnesses on the job. Part of these efforts include the development of a national heat standard, a temperature level above which conditions are deemed inherently unsafe for workers. There is currently no national heat standard. 

In the recent news release, OSHA underscored the dangers of heat-related illness. 43 workers in 2019 died from heat exposure, and 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illness. Even worse, these deaths were all preventable. A comprehensive plan to deal with heat-related illness, as we’ve discussed in the past, is a simple and effective way to protect employees from heat exposure. OSHA also pointed out in the release that heat-related death and illness are largely underreported, so it’s in fact quite likely that these numbers are higher. 

OSHA outlined four major initiatives the department will roll out under their enhanced measures to protect workers from extreme heat:

  • Implement an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards
  • Develop a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections
  • Launch a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard
  • Form a Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group

The enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards applies to indoor and outdoor worksites in general industry, construction, agriculture, and maritime where potential heat-related hazards exist. On days when there is increased risks of heat-related illnesses, OSHA will increase enforcement efforts. 

OSHA announced it will create a National Emphasis Program (NEP), a temporary program that focuses OSHA’s resources on particular hazards, solely for heat-related issues. This NEP will target high-risk industries and allocate more resources for staff and inspections. 

Part of the challenge of enforcing rules for heat exposure is the absence of a federal heat standard. OSHA announced that in October 2021, they will initiate an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. This advanced notice will mark the beginning of a comment period where the agency will gather information on heat-related issues. 

Along with these measures, OSHA will form a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, (NACOSH) to further address extreme heat on the job. The Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group will be an advisory committee of health care officials, labor representatives, and occupational safety professionals that will identify and share best practices to protect workers and provide better understanding of challenges around heat illness and prevention.

As OSHA continues prioritizing inspections of extreme heat conditions on job sites across the country, now is the perfect time for your company to implement a heat illness prevention program. Simple steps, such as requiring regular breaks for water, rest, and shade, as well as training workers to identify common symptoms of heat-related illness, can save lives. Don’t wait until next summer to set your plan in motion.

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