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OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Efforts

Cotney OSHA heat wave program
August 2, 2022 at 6:00 a.m.

By Trent Cotney.

In April 2022, OSHA created its National Emphasis Program that focuses on indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards. 

Across the nation in recent weeks, we have seen record heat. These alarming temperatures are not merely an annoyance. They can put thousands of workers at risk.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is aware of the danger that extreme heat can bring to the work site, so in April 2022, the agency unveiled a National Emphasis Program (NEP) that focused on both indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards. And on July 20, 2022, the White House reported that OSHA had inspected 564 workplaces for instances of heat-related illness since the NEP was announced. The White House went on to say that OSHA’s efforts would “protect millions of workers from heat illness and injury.”

What the NEP Calls For

The NEP was designed to direct attention to 70 high-risk industries, which include construction, manufacturing, automotive, and landscaping. OSHA Area Offices have adopted the practice of monitoring heat warnings and advisories from the National Weather Service, then making heat inspections on those applicable days. The agency offices are working from random lists and making inspections with no advance warning. OSHA is also prioritizing inspections based on worksite complaints, as well as hospitalizations or fatalities resulting from heat.

Keeping workers safe

OSHA requires that during times of extreme heat, employers must follow all applicable safety practices. These include allowing frequent breaks, providing water, and training everyone on heat-related dangers. Employers should have in place a Heat Illness Prevention Plan. Details of such a plan include the following:

  • Acclimating new workers or those returning to the worksite after time away, so they can get used to a full day of heat
  • Providing ample cool water and making sure workers are drinking enough
  • Allowing and encouraging workers to take regular breaks from the heat
  • Ensuring that there are shady or air-conditioned areas for those rest periods
  • Monitoring the temperature and work levels on the worksite
  • Training everyone on the site to recognize the signs of heat-related illness and know how to respond
  • Encouraging a buddy system, so workers look out for one another

In addition, OSHA partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to create a Heat Safety Tool App. It provides the current heat index for users’ geographical location, provides heat forecasts and risk levels, makes preventive recommendations, and advises on the signs and symptoms of heat-related issues. This app can be a good resource for all work sites.

Advice for employers

For the health of your workers and your business, it is essential that you take extreme heat seriously. Heat-related illness can lead to accidents on the work site and serious medical issues, so make sure you have a Heat Illness Prevention Plan in place.

Do not hesitate to consult legal counsel if you have questions about OSHA’s requirements. An experienced OSHA attorney can advise you regarding your obligations to your employees and help you avoid unnecessary citations.

About Trent Cotney

Trent Cotney is a partner and Construction Practice Group Leader at the law firm of Adams and Reese LLP and NRCA General Counsel. For more information, reach out to Trent at trent.cotney@arlaw.com.

The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.

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