EHS Administration, Heat illness

Agencies Warn Employers of Heat, Smoke Hazards

On July 7, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Atlanta regional office warned employers in the Southeast of the dangers of working in hot weather, both indoors and outdoors. The agency explained that incorporating water, rest, and shade into the workday can make the difference between ending it safely or suffering serious injuries or worse.

Meanwhile, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) reminded employers to comply with requirements of the state’s protection from wildfire smoke standard, which requires employers to take steps to protect their workers from unhealthy air due to wildfire smoke.

So far this year, OSHA’s regional offices in Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Kansas City, Missouri; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have alerted employers that they need to protect workers from the hazards of excessive heat. The agency has a rulemaking that would establish the first federal heat exposure standard and has an ongoing heat hazards National Emphasis Program (NEP) that targets industries in the agricultural, construction, manufacturing, and wholesale sectors, as well as automobile dealerships, postal service, and freight and rail transportation.

“Throughout the Southeast, millions of workers are exposed to serious hazards from high temperatures. We strongly urge employers to learn how to recognize and mitigate these hazards to keep their workers safe,” Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s Atlanta regional administrator, said in an agency statement.

OSHA reminded employers to:

  • Encourage workers to drink water every 15 minutes.
  • Ensure that workers take frequent rest breaks in the shade to cool down.
  • Have an emergency plan for responding to workers showing signs of heat-related illness.
  • Train employees and supervisors on the hazards of heat exposure, how to recognize common signs and symptoms, and how to prevent illness.
  • Allow workers to build a tolerance for working in heat through a program of acclimatization.

Cal/OSHA wildfire smoke warning

In response to the Electra Fire in Amador County, California, on July 5, Cal/OSHA reminded employers of their duties under the state’s wildfire smoke standard. Employers also must provide employee instruction and training before workers are exposed to wildfire smoke. Other requirements of the standard are triggered by the air quality at a worksite. Employers must monitor the air quality index (AQI) for particulate matter (PM2.5) before and throughout a work shift.

When the AQI for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, employers must take steps to protect employees, including:

  • Inform employees of the AQI for PM2.5 and the protective measures available to them.
  • Implement modifications to the workplace, if feasible, to reduce exposure, such as providing enclosed structures or vehicles for employees to work in where the air is filtered.
  • Implement changes to work procedures or schedules, like changing the location where employees work or reducing the time they work outdoors or are exposed to unfiltered outdoor air.
  • Provide proper respiratory protection equipment, such as disposable respirators, (N95, N99, N100, R95, P95, P99, or P100) for employees’ voluntary use. 

Respirator use is mandatory when the AQI exceeds 500 due to wildfire smoke. Employers also must comply with the medical evaluation, fit-testing, and training requirements of Cal/OSHA’s respiratory protection standard.

There is no federal wildfire smoke standard. Like California, Oregon has a permanent wildfire smoke standard, and Washington has an emergency temporary standard while the state develops a permanent standard.

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