The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has issued a new National Emphasis Program (the “program”) on heat inspections and is launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard. In addition, OSHA is forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to provide better understanding of challenges and to identify and share best practices to protect workers.
The program applies when employees are exposed to outdoor heat at or above 80°F with the humidity at or above 40 percent. OSHA will conduct programmed inspections when the National Weather Service has announced a heat warning or advisory in an area, targeting high-risk workplaces, such as construction sites, automobile factories, petroleum refineries, chemical factories, glass factories, bakeries, and skilled nursing facilities. This means OSHA will increase enforcement activities under the General Duty Clause, especially focusing on high-risk industries like construction and other strenuous activities indoors and outdoors.
During inspections, compliance officers will assess whether employers:
- provide accessible, cool drinking water to employees at all times and at no cost to them;
- have written heat illness and injury programs and train employees on hydration, heat illness signs, first aid, and summoning emergency personnel;
- monitor ambient temperatures and levels of work exertion at worksites;
- schedule rest and hydration breaks;
- provide access to shaded areas;
- provide time for acclimatization of new and returning employees (OSHA’s recommended rule is that employees should only work 20 percent of their normal duration on their first day and gradually increase work duration over a one- to two-week period);
- scheduled job rotations (such as earlier start times and employee rotation) to limit heat exposures; and
- implemented a “buddy” system on hot days.
Employers should evaluate their current programs on heat illness prevention and increase focus on training and recognition of the potential dangers. The program should make it clear as to when supervisors must implement enhanced “high heat” procedures that include:
- Observing individual employees for alertness.
- A mandatory “buddy system” within teams of workers.
- Effective communication with lone workers.
- Cool down rest periods every two hours.
- Performing the most strenuous tasks during the cooler hours of the shift.
Should you have any questions, please contact Ali Law Group.