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Rulemaking and emphasis program part of OSHA’s plans for preventing heat illnesses

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Washington — OSHA is initiating a multipronged approach to protecting workers from extreme heat exposure, both outdoors and indoors, the agency has announced. 

In a Sept. 20 press release, the agency says it is developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections, is launching an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards and will issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on a heat standard next month. 

In addition, OSHA will form a Heat Injury and Illness Workplace Prevention Work Group within its National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health

“While heat illness is largely preventable, and commonly underreported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure,” the release states. “Despite widespread underreporting, 43 workers died from heat illness in 2019, and at least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illnesses.”

The release adds that the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center estimates heat-related economic losses of at least $100 billion each year. 

OSHA’s initiative will apply to general industry as well as the construction, agriculture and maritime industries. The agency will prioritize heat-related inspections and interventions when the heat index exceeds 80° F. 

“On days when a recognized heat temperature can result in increased risks of heat-related illnesses, OSHA will increase enforcement efforts,” the release states. “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 and what to do when a worker suspects a heat-related illness is occurring; and taking periodic measurements to determine workers’ heat exposure.” 

OSHA notes that area directors nationwide also will:

• 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.

 

“While agricultural and construction workers often come to mind first when thinking about workers most exposed to heat hazards, without proper safety actions, sun protection and climate-control, intense heat can be harmful to a wide variety of workers indoors or outdoors and during any season,” Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in the release.

The advance notice of proposed rulemaking will include a comment period to “gather diverse perspectives and technical expertise on topics including heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, exposure monitoring and strategies to protect workers.”

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