OSHA takes aim at heat stress

By: Travis Rhoden

Publication: Workplace Safety Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 10/15/2021

OSHA takes aim at heat stress in both outdoor and indoor workplaces

While heat illness is largely preventable, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure. In fact, 43 workers died from heat illness in 2019, and at least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illnesses, according to OSHA, who notes that many heat illnesses go unreported.

To better protect heat-exposed workers, OSHA is:

Launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard:

OSHA is announcing the issuance of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on heat illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. This is a significant step toward a federal heat standard to ensure protections in workplaces across the country. The ANPRM, to be published in Fall 2021, will initiate a comment period allowing for OSHA to gather diverse perspectives and technical expertise on topics including heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, and exposure monitoring.

Implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards:

In parallel with beginning rulemaking on a heat-specific standard, OSHA can use existing tools to protect workers in hazardously hot indoor and outdoor settings. Through a new enforcement initiative, OSHA will prioritize heat-related interventions and workplace inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80°F. On these days, OSHA Area Directors will dedicate additional resources in responding to heat-related complaints and expand the scope of programmed and unprogrammed inspections to address heat-related hazards. In addition to shaping the focus of OSHA field staff, this initiative also will expand on OSHA’s campaign to educate and assist employers on heat illness prevention.

Developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections:

OSHA is also working to formalize a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat hazard cases, which will target high-risk industries and focus OSHA resources and staff time on heat inspections. Establishing a new NEP requires extensive data review, which OSHA is working to complete in order for the NEP to take effect before the Summer 2022 heat season. In doing so, OSHA will build on the existing Regional Emphasis Program for Heat Illnesses in Region VI, which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Indoor heat hazards also covered

The OSHA heat initiative covers both outdoor and indoor workplaces. Typical indoor worksites where heat-related illnesses may occur include foundries, brick-firing and ceramic plants, glass production facilities, rubber products factories, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, confectioneries, commercial kitchens, laundries, food canneries, warehouses without adequate climate control, chemical plants, and smelters.