OSHA Directed to Focus on Heat Illness Prevention

  • Published
  • 29 September 2021
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  • News

The Biden Administration has launched an inter-agency effort to protect Americans from exposure to extreme heat, the nation’s leading weather-related killer.

The initiative includes a directive to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to begin the rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard. An Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings will be published in the Federal Register, which will initiate a public comment period on topics including heat stress thresholds, acclimatization planning and exposure monitoring.

OSHA has also been directed to:

  • Focus on enforcement: OSHA will use existing tools to protect workers at risk of exposure to extreme heat. The agency said it will prioritize heat-related interventions and workplace inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80°F. OSHA Area Directors have been instructed to respond to heat-related complaints, expand the scope of inspections and provide educational materials on heat illness prevention to employers.
  • Develop a National Emphasis Program: OSHA is working to formalize an emphasis program on heat hazards, which it plans to implement before next summer. The program will target high-risk industries and focus OSHA resources and staff time on inspections. The Emphasis Program for Heat Illnesses in Region VI, which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, will be used as a model for the national program.
  • Form a work group: A heat illness prevention work group will study challenges and identify best practices to protect workers. The group will include public, labor and management representatives and experts from a range of sectors and industries. Topics will include identification, monitoring and response to workplace heat hazards; heat emergency response plans; and worker training and engagement.

Federal government agencies involved in the extreme heat initiative include the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Agriculture; Environmental Protection Agency; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which have simultaneously announced actions designed to reduce heat-related illness, protect public health and support the economy. WorkCare’s occupational health physicians and subject matters experts are available to assist employers with their response and comply with OSHA standards.