OSHA has a new initiative to protect workers from hazards of extreme heat

First published by OSHA

What to Know About OSHA's Heat Enforcement Initiative: On days with a heat index of 80 degrees or higher, OSHA staff will prioritze heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities.

                                               Photo property of OSHA

WASHINGTON – To combat the hazards associated with extreme heat exposure – both indoors and outdoors – the White House today announced enhanced and expanded efforts the U.S. Department of Labor is taking to address heat-related illnesses.

As part of the Biden-Harris administration’s interagency effort and commitment to workplace safety, climate resilience, and environmental justice, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is initiating enhanced measures to protect workers better in hot environments and reduce the dangers of exposure to ambient heat.

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. Increasing 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.

To emphasize its concern and take necessary action, 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. In addition, 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.

“Throughout the nation, millions of workers face serious hazards from high temperatures both outdoors and indoors. Amid changing climate, the growing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events is increasing the dangers workers face, especially for workers of color who disproportionately work in essential jobs in tough conditions,” said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “As Secretary of Labor, my priority is to make sure we are taking appropriate action to keep workers healthy and safe on the job.”

OSHA implemented an intervention and enforcement initiative recently 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.

“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,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick.

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.

In October 2021, OSHA will take a significant step toward a federal heat standard to ensure protections in workplaces across the country by 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.

The agency is also working to establish a National Emphasis Program on heat hazard cases, which will target high-risk industries and focus agency resources and staff time on heat inspections. The 2022 National Emphasis Program will build on the existing Regional Emphasis Program for Heat Illnesses in OSHA’s Region VI, which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Read the statement by President Biden on Mobilizing the Administration to Address Extreme Heat.

Learn more about OSHA.


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Work safely in the heat: What you need to know

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Photo: safetyandhealthmagazine.
Heat-related illnesses accounted for 783 worker deaths and nearly 70,000 serious injuries in the United States from 1992 to 2016. And in 2018 alone, 3,950 workers experienced days away from work as a result of nonfatal injuries and illnesses from on-the-job heat exposure.

“Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to heat in the workplace, and although heat-related illness is preventable, each year thousands of workers are getting sick from their exposure to heat, and … some cases are fatal,” Stephen Boyd, deputy regional administrator for OSHA Region 6, said May 19 during an OSHA webinar on preventing heat-related illnesses and injuries.

Working in a hot environment can trigger ailments that include heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke – considered a medical emergency. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include feeling faint or dizzy; excessive sweating; cool, pale, clammy skin; nausea or vomiting; rapid, weak pulse; and muscle cramps. Workers who are experiencing heat exhaustion need to get to a cool, air-conditioned place. If fully conscious, they should drink water, take a cool shower and use a cold compress.

Workers with heatstroke may experience a headache but no sweating, and have a body temperature above 103° F. Other symptoms are red, hot, dry skin; nausea or vomiting; and loss of consciousness. Call 911 if a case of heatstroke is suspected, then take action to cool the worker until help arrives.

Other tips from OSHA to help prevent heat-related illnesses include:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes.
  • If working outside, take rest breaks in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing when working outdoors.
  • Monitor co-workers for symptoms of heat-related 
illnesses.

OSHA provides employer and worker resources for working in hot weather via its “Water. Rest. Shade.” campaign at osha.gov/heat.


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Cal/OSHA to employers: It’s your duty to prevent heat illness

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Image: Missouri Department of Transportation/Flickr

Oakland, CA — Employers are responsible for protecting workers from heat illness, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health – also known as Cal/OSHA – reiterates in a recent reminder.

Since 2005, the state has had a heat illness prevention standard for all outdoor workers, including those in agriculture, construction and landscaping. Also protected under the standard are those who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors, such as security guards and groundskeepers, or in non-air-conditioned vehicles such as transportation and delivery drivers.

Under the standard, employers must:

  • Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
  • Provide instruction on heat illness prevention to all supervisors and employees.
  • Make available drinking water that is fresh, pure and suitably cool, and encourage workers to drink at least 1 quart per hour.
  • Make sure shade is available when temperatures exceed 80° F or when workers request it, and encourage rest breaks.

Employers also should consider heat illness mitigation strategies while implementing required measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including allowing appropriate time and space for workers to take breaks while maintaining physical distancing protocol. Further, employers should provide cloth facial coverings or allow workers to use their own.

“Employers should be aware that wearing face coverings can make it more difficult to breathe and harder for a worker to cool off, so additional breaks may be needed to prevent overheating,” Cal/OSHA says in a May 26 press release, adding that agricultural and other outdoor workers are not encouraged to wear surgical or respirator masks as facial coverings.

The agency has published a sample document employers can use to develop a heat illness prevention plan.

OSHA hosts webinar on preventing heat-related illnesses, injuries

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Photo: OSHA

Washington — To prevent illnesses and injuries related to environmental heat exposure, employers need to “think about preventing injuries and providing workers with the right equipment for the job,” a May 19 webinar hosted by OSHA advises.

“Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to heat in the workplace, and although heat-related illness is preventable, each year thousands of workers are getting sick from their exposure to heat, and … some cases are fatal,” Stephen Boyd, deputy regional administrator for OSHA Region 6, said during the presentation.

The agency notes that operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects and strenuous physical activity carry high potential for causing work-related heat stress. OSHA cites numerous industrial occupations and locations in which problems may occur. Among outdoor workers, examples include construction, refining, asbestos removal, hazardous waste site activities and emergency response operations – especially those requiring workers to wear semipermeable or permeable protective clothing.

Sites of potentially hazardous indoor operations include foundries, brick firing and ceramic plants, glass product facilities, rubber product factories, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, confectionaries, commercial kitchens, laundries, food canneries, chemical plants, mining sites, smelters, and steam tunnels.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, heat illnesses caused 49 worker deaths in 2018 – a 53.1% increase from the previous year. That same year, 3,950 workers experienced days away from work as a result of nonfatal injuries and illnesses from occupational heat exposure.

The webinar explores strategies for heat hazard recognition, as well as planning and supervision, engineering controls and work practices, training, and resources.

All new or returning workers should be acclimatized to environmental heat conditions by first working shorter shifts before building up to longer ones, OSHA recommends. Additionally, these workers should gradually increase their workloads while taking more frequent breaks at the start.

OSHA offers employer and worker resources for working in hot weather through its “Water. Rest. Shade.” Campaign.

“Water, rest, shade: These will mean the difference between life and death,” OSHA states during the webinar.

Agency tips to help prevent heat-related illnesses:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes.
  • Take rest breaks in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
  • Monitor co-workers for symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

An effort to mitigate heat-related illnesses and fatalities include a Heat Safety Tool – a free mobile app designed in collaboration with NIOSH.