EHS Administration, Enforcement and Inspection, Heat illness

OSHA Launches Heat Stress Enforcement Program

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched an indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards National Emphasis Program (NEP). Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh unveiled the NEP on April 13 with Vice President Kamala Harris at a public event at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 Training Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

OSHA plans to initiate inspections in over 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or an advisory for a local area. Industries targeted by the NEP include those in the agricultural, construction, and manufacturing sectors, as well as automobile dealerships, postal service, and freight and rail transportation.

The NEP exempts farming operations with 10 or fewer employees—excluding farm employers’ family members—during the previous 12 months and no active temporary labor camp during the preceding 12 months.

Agency inspectors will look for and address heat hazards during inspections beyond the industries targeted in the NEP.

“This enforcement program is another step towards our goal of a federal heat standard,” Walsh said in an agency statement.

On October 27, 2021, OSHA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings—the first step in developing a federal heat stress standard. The ANPRM contained no proposed regulatory text but posed 114 questions for stakeholders about a possible standard.

California, Oregon, and Washington have heat stress or heat illness prevention standards, and Minnesota has a state standard for work in cold and hot environments.

“Through this work, we’re also empowering workers with knowledge of their rights, especially the right to speak up about their safety without fear of retaliation,” Walsh added.

On days when the heat index is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will engage in outreach and technical assistance to help employers keep workers safe on the job.

OSHA also instructed compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) in its area offices to be vigilant, during their travel to jobsites, in conducting compliance assistance or making self-referral inspections of outdoor work environments in plain view. Area offices also may act on referrals from the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD).

During a heat-related inspection, CSHOs will:

  • Review employers’ OSHA 300 injury and illness logs and 301 incident reports for entries indicating heat-related illnesses.
  • Review any records of heat-related emergency room visits and/or ambulance transport without hospitalization. Such record review may require the use of a Medical Access Order.
  • Determine if the employer has a heat illness and injury program.
  • Interview workers, including both new employees and any employees who have recently returned to work, for symptoms of dehydration, dizziness, fainting, headache, or other conditions that may indicate heat-related illnesses.

A CSHO’s evaluation of an employer’s heat illness and injury prevention program will examine employee training on heat illness signs, prevention, and the importance of hydration; how employees are instructed to report signs and symptoms; and procedures for first aid and contacting emergency personnel.

Questions regarding the heat illness and injury prevention program also will include:

  • Is it a written program?
  • Does the program include heat-acclimatization periods for new and returning workers?
  • How does the employer monitor ambient temperatures and levels of work exertion at the worksite?
  • Is unlimited cool water easily accessible to all employees?
  • Are there scheduled rest breaks, with access to shaded areas, and does the employer require additional breaks for hydration?
  • Are administrative controls like earlier start times and employee/job rotation used to limit heat exposures?
  • Is a “buddy” system of worker observation used on hot days?

The NEP, signed April 8, remains effective for 3 years or until canceled, extended, or replaced by a superseding NEP.