On September 20, 2021 in an OSHA National News Release, OSHA published a memorandum establishing an enforcement initiative that is designed to prevent and protect employees from heat-related illnesses and death. This initiative, which develops a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat inspections, is an expansion of an already existing Regional Emphasis Program (REP) in OSHA’s Region VI, which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Between 2015 and 2020 OSHA reported they had conducted approximately 200 heat-related inspections each year and about 15 heat-related fatality inspections annually. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports from 2011 to 2019 there was an average of 38 fatalities per year and on average 2,700 cases of heat-related illnesses that resulted in days away from work.
OSHA is further launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard and is forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupation Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group that will help to better understand the challenges, as well as identify and share best practices. The new enforcement initiative will rely on OSHA’s General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Section 5(a)(1). Any proposed citations for heat-related hazards where the employer fails to have procedures to protect workers adequately, the Compliance Safety Health Officer (CSHO) would use the General Duty Clause.
What Will the NEP Do?
This initiative will apply to both indoor and outdoor environments in general industry, construction, agriculture and maritime where potential heat-related hazards exist whereas the REP focused primarily on employees working outdoors. It prioritizes heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Employers are being encouraged to implement methods to protect employees on heat priority days to include activities such as regularly taking breaks for water, rest and providing shade. They are also asked to provide training for workers on how to identify common symptoms of heat-related illness and what to do when an employee suspects a heat-related illness is occurring. Employers should also establish methods for taking periodic measurements to determine workers’ heat exposure.
The way this appears to work will be that the OSHA area offices will look at the potential for heat-related illness and deaths at both indoor and outdoor worksites on what is referred to as heat priority days. These are days where the heat index exceeds 80⁰F. A heat index at this level indicates a need for increased enforcement to identify potential hazards associated with heat that could be present in the working conditions which could lead to illness or death.
The area offices would also look at complaints and referrals to schedule site visits as well. The OSHA Compliance Safety Health Officer (CSHO) would use the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety App as a resource for making baseline determinations on the site being inspected. The CSHOs would be tasked with reviewing OSHA 300 Logs, interviewing employees regarding potential heat-related issues, reviewing an employer’s plan to address heat-related illnesses and to identify potential heat-related conditions and activities.
What Should Employers Do?
Employers should begin to conduct hazard analyses of their working conditions and tasks to be performed to determine if there are potentially heat-related risks. It is recommended that a heat-related program be developed to address items such as working conditions, scheduling breaks, providing resources for hydration and a training plan. The training needs to encompass how to recognize the early signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.
The plan should also include a heat-acclimatization process for new workers as well as those who have been out for extended periods. Employers should look at how shift work may be modified and how there can be a workload reduction using machinery or additional workers. Cool water stations should be provided as well as opportunities for electrolyte replenishing drinks or ice-pops. Drinking water should be encouraged to be done every 15-20 minutes when moderate work activities are being done. OSHA does provide other information and resources on their website for heat exposure and heat illness prevention.
Employers should also participate in the Call for Comment if your industry or work activities could potentially be impacted by this new rule. Beginning October 27, 2021, you may submit comments at www.regulations.gov, the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal and refer to Docket No. OSHA-2021-0009. All comments must be submitted by Dec. 27, 2021
How TRC Can Help
The TRC team is here to help you navigate the current regulations and what the proposed changes could mean to your business operations. Our experienced team can also guide you about the best ways to provide for the safe operations during any heat-related tasks. TRC’s experienced safety professionals and industrial hygienists are here to help with OSHA audit preparation and all other health and safety compliance needs. Our skilled team can provide on-site audits which may include a thorough site visit, observing worker activities, conducting employee interviews and records review. We also offer remote and hybrid audits utilizing mobile applications and audit links.
To learn more contact Brian Godfrey at firstname.lastname@example.org.