This week, regional Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offices in Chicago; Kansas City, Missouri; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, urged employers in the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Dakotas to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hazards posed by excessive heat.
The agency pointed to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing reports of 344 worker deaths in the United States from 2011 to 2019 due to environmental heat exposure. In nearly identical announcements, the regional offices repeated OSHA’s “Water. Rest. Shade.” message, calling on employers to:
- Encourage workers to drink water every 15 minutes.
- Encourage workers to take frequent rest breaks in the shade to cool down.
- Have an emergency plan ready to respond when a worker shows signs of heat-related illness.
- Train workers on the hazards of heat exposure and how to prevent illness.
- Allow workers to build a tolerance for working in heat.
The agency also urged employers to download and use the Heat Safety Tool, a smartphone app developed by OSHA and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) available for both Android phones and iPhone® devices. Using the app, employers can plan outdoor work activities based on the temperature and heat index during different times of the day. The app provides real-time heat index levels and hourly forecasts specific to a user’s location, as well as occupational safety and health recommendations from OSHA and NIOSH for hot conditions. The app is available from the Apple® App Store and Google Play store.
“Employers must protect workers from the dangers of heat illness in hot indoor and outdoor environments,” William Donovan, OSHA’s Chicago regional administrator, said in an agency statement.
“In the past several years, OSHA’s heat safety campaign has focused intently on raising awareness of the related dangers. Now, our recent national emphasis program is reaching out to unions, employers in target industries, and other organizations to protect workers most often exposed to heat illness and injuries.”
OSHA’s National Emphasis Program (NEP) of outreach, inspection, and enforcement for indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards was unveiled April 13 by Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.
The NEP targets over 70 industries in the agricultural, construction, manufacturing, and wholesale sectors, as well as automobile dealerships, postal service, and freight and rail transportation. OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) in area offices may conduct self-referred inspections, and area offices may act on referrals from the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.
OSHA currently cites employers under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act for heat illness violations. While there is no federal heat stress or heat illness prevention standard, OSHA has a rulemaking to develop a federal standard. On October 27, 2021, OSHA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM), asking stakeholders to weigh in on 114 questions about a possible standard.
California has a heat illness prevention program standard that requires employers to develop and implement written plans for heat exposures, and Minnesota has a workplace safety and health standard for exposures to both cold and hot environments. A permanent Oregon heat standard and a temporary Washington state standard also take effect June 15.