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OSHA Increases Focus on Heat-Related Workplace Hazards

To reduce heat-related workplace illnesses and injuries, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has increased its scrutiny of work activities that expose employees to heat-related hazards.

OSHA recently announced that it will implement initiatives targeting heat-related hazards, develop a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections, and launch a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard. In addition, the agency has formed a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to provide a better understanding of challenges and to identify and share best practices to protect workers.

Workplace inspections to increase

On days when the heat index reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit, OSHA will prioritize workplace inspections and heat-related interventions. Local OSHA directors will dedicate additional resources to respond to heat-related complaints and offer additional planned and surprise inspections. OSHA also plans to educate and assist employers on ways to prevent heat illness and injury.

Background

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that from 2011 to 2019, environmental heat cases resulted in an average of 38 fatalities per year and an average of 2,700 cases annually resulting in injury.

Serious heat-related illnesses occur when the body temperature exceeds 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst, and heavy sweating. Fatal heat-related cases are usually the result of exertional heatstroke, where physical activity in hot environments causes the body temperature to reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Scope

This initiative applies to indoor and outdoor worksites where potential heat-related hazards exist. Working conditions that have resulted in serious heat-related illnesses occur in all major industry sectors of employers. Typical indoor worksites where heat-related illnesses occur include foundries, brick-firing facilities, and ceramic plants, glass production facilities, rubber products factories, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, confectioneries, commercial kitchens, laundries, food canneries, warehouses without adequate climate control, chemical plants, and smelters.

Outdoor work activities impacted by heat include agriculture, landscaping, construction operations, roofing, refining gas/oil and well operations, asbestos and lead removal, waste collection activities, package and mail delivery, and any other activities that require moderate to high physical exertions or the wearing of heavy or bulky clothing or equipment on a hot day.

What should employers know?

Employers should review their procedures and develop a policy to monitor both indoor and outdoor temperatures (when applicable). Employers should also educate their workers on the signs of heat-related illnesses, and provide access to ventilation or cooling areas, breaks, water, and shade when necessary.

Help is available

The business attorneys at O’Reilly Rancilio are ready to answer your questions regarding OSHA and the efforts to reduce heat-related injuries in the workplace. For more information, call 568-726-1000 or visit our website at www.orlaw.com.

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