As I’m writing this post, it’s 101* in San Antonio, Texas. In a state known for its scorching summers, we’ve already seen a record number of triple temperatures this month.
Although heat-related illness is known to be largely preventable, thousands of employees are impacted by dangerous heat exposure every year. Underreporting of heat-related deaths is a known issue, but at least 43 workers died from heat illness in 2019, and at least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illnesses.
Furthermore, a recent study by the Atlantic Council estimates the total economic loss from heat in the United States to be at least $100 billion annually.
In an effort to mitigate health risks for employees working in hot conditions, the Occupational Health and Safety Association (OSHA) has stepped up enforcement of heat-related hazards. In this blog post, we’ll let business owners know what to expect from the agency’s new National Emphasis Program.
OSHA Steps Up Enforcement on Heat-Related Hazards
In 2021, OSHA announced the implementation of the National Emphasis Program, a new enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards designed to protect workers from dangerous levels of heat exposure. The initiative applies to both indoor and outdoor businesses and outdoor worksites in general industry, construction, agriculture, and maritime where potential heat-related hazards exist.
According to OSHA’s news release, “On days when a recognized heat temperature can result in increased risks of heat-related illnesses, OSHA will increase enforcement efforts. Employers are encouraged to implement intervention methods on heat priority days proactively, including regularly taking breaks for water, rest, and shade, training workers on how to identify common symptoms and what to do when a worker suspects a heat-related illness is occurring, and taking periodic measurements to determine workers' heat exposure.”
OSHA Area Directors across the country have been instructed to:
- Focus on inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals, and illnesses reported by employers and conduct an onsite investigation where appropriate.
- Instruct compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) to conduct an intervention or open an inspection during their travels to job sites when they observe employees performing strenuous work in hot conditions, providing OSHA’s educational materials, and discussing the importance of easy access to cool water, cooling areas, and acclimatization.
- Increase the scope of other OSHA inspections to address heat-related hazards at worksites where conditions or other evidence indicates these hazards may exist.
What Can Business Owners Expect During a Heat-Related OSHA Inspection?
According to new enforcement guidelines, during heat-related inspections, OSHA’s compliance and safety officers are instructed to:
- Review OSHA 300 Logs for any entries indicating heat-related illness(es);
- Review injury and illness reports and obtain any records of emergency room visits and/or ambulance transport, even if hospitalizations did not occur;
- Interview workers for reports of headache, dizziness, fainting, dehydration, or other symptoms that may indicate heat-related illnesses;
- Review employer’s plan to address heat exposure, including acclimatization procedures (especially for new and returning workers), work-rest schedules, access to shade and water (with electrolytes when needed), and any training records associated with implementing a heat illness prevention program;
- Document, where possible, the heat index on the OSHA-NIOSH Heat App, using the screen saver feature on a mobile phone or tablet; and
- Identify conditions and activities relevant to heat-related hazards, including the length of time in which a worker is continuously or repeatedly performing moderate to strenuous activities and the availability of rest breaks, water, and shade on site.
Tips for Business Owners on Working with OSHA
To help businesses, especially small businesses, comply with OSHA regulations, the Department of Labor and OSHA makes every effort to guide business owners and employees in setting up proper safety programs.
- The Department of Labor offers employers and employees sample guides covering how to comply with OSHA standards.
- OSHA is legally obligated to assist small businesses in complying with regulations and recommendations.
- OSHA offers free consultations and training to help small businesses recognize and correct workplace dangers before receiving violation citations.
- Small businesses (defined by OSHA as having 10 or fewer employees) are exempt from “programmed inspections” and receive a penalty reduction of 60% for OSHA violations that result from other types of inspections.
Make sure your business is taking full advantage of all the help available to ensure a safe workplace and healthy workers. Working within OSHA’s guidelines for heat-related hazards not only protects your employees, it also saves your business a number of costs in the long run.