OSHA’s New Heat Exposure Rule
On September 21, 2021, OSHA announced efforts to address heat-related illnesses. Per OSHA, “while heat illness is largely preventable, and commonly under-reported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure. Despite widespread under-reporting, 43 workers died from heat illness in 2019, and at least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illnesses. Increased heat precipitated by climate change can cause lost productivity and work hours resulting in large wage losses for workers.” The Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center estimates the economic loss from heat to be at least $100 billion annually, a number that could double by 2030 and quintuple by 2050 under a higher emissions scenario.
OSHA is implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards, developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections, and launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard. Additionally, the agency is forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to provide better understanding of challenges and to identify and share best practices to protect workers.
Recently, OSHA implemented an intervention and enforcement initiative to prevent and protect workers from heat-related illnesses and deaths while they are working in hazardous hot environments. The newly established initiative prioritizes heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
The OSHA initiative applies to indoor and outdoor worksites in general industry, construction, agriculture and maritime where potential heat-related hazards exist. On days when a recognized heat temperature can result in increased risks of heat-related illnesses, OSHA will increase enforcement efforts. 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 Area Directors across the nation will institute the following:
- 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 job sites, to conduct an intervention (providing the agency's heat poster/wallet card, discuss the importance of easy access to cool water, cooling areas and acclimatization) or opening 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.
This month, OSHA will be issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. The advance notice will initiate a comment period allowing OSHA to gather diverse perspectives and technical expertise on topics including heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, exposure monitoring, and strategies to protect workers.