COVID-19, Heat illness

ASSP Issues COVID-19, Heat Standard Positions

The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) October 14 called for a federal emergency temporary standard (ETS) requiring COVID-19 vaccination or weekly negative tests that takes a risk-assessment approach rather than applying employer requirements primarily based on employee counts. The anticipated Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emergency rule announced by the White House on September 9 would compel employers with 100 or more employees to require vaccination or weekly tests for infection—part of a six-point national strategy to combat the pandemic.

The ASSP holds the position that “the size of a company or organization does not affect how the disease affects workers.” The group urged OSHA to review the exemption of employers with fewer than 100 employees.

The ASSP’s announcement came as part of a pair of policy position statements on anticipated rulemakings on COVID-19 vaccination and workplace exposures to excessive heat.

The ASSP stated that it believes employers can implement controls to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace regardless of workforce size, including contractors that have fewer than 100 employees and operate on multiemployer worksites.

“We have long viewed government action as a cornerstone of the occupational safety and health profession,” ASSP President Brad Giles said in a statement.

“Legislation and regulation affect every safety professional, so it is vital that our members and the public learn and understand the positions of our society,” Giles continued.

Heat stress

The ASSP characterized heat stress as a well-known and easily preventable hazard, and the group expressed its continued support for a federal heat stress standard. However, the group also emphasized the need for a simple, easily implemented standard and encouraged OSHA to review the regulatory approaches that state-plan states have taken.

California and Washington have long had heat illness prevention standards, and Minnesota has a standard for exposures to both heat and cold. Oregon this summer established emergency rules for excessive heat exposure in outdoor employment and in employer-provided housing.

The ASSP said it would provide technical comments on the agency’s heat stress initiatives, including the heat stress rulemaking and a national emphasis program (NEP), when OSHA releases them. It also announced work on a new industry consensus standard for managing heat stress in construction and demolition operations.

On September 20, OSHA and the White House announced “enhanced and expanded efforts” that included launching an NEP and establishing the first federal workplace heat standard to address worker exposures to excessive heat and heat-related illnesses. OSHA already has an agencywide enforcement initiative that prioritizes heat-related inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit and applies to both indoor and outdoor workplaces, as well as a regional emphasis program in Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas) for heat illness prevention.

The REP includes worksite inspections for heat-related illness precautions, such as employee training on the hazards of hot temperatures; the availability on-site of drinking water and shade or a climate-controlled (air-conditioned) area for rest breaks; a heat-acclimatization protocol to protect vulnerable new workers and those who have just returned from an extended absence; and the provision of first aid or prompt medical attention if a heat-related illness occurs.