New Safety Standards for Working in the Heat Coming From OSHA

Working in extreme heat poses a dangerous risk to workers in many industries. Here's how OSHA is working to minimize that risk.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced it’s reexamining safety standards for working in the heat and expanding its efforts to protect workers from heat-related illnesses. As part of this initiative, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will work to ensure workplace heat standards are being enforced while developing new standards based on current climate science.

“Throughout the nation, millions of workers face serious hazards from high temperatures both outdoors and indoors,” U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement. “Amid changing climate, the growing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events is increasing the dangers workers face, especially for workers of color who disproportionately work in essential jobs in tough conditions.

“As Secretary of Labor, my priority is to make sure we are taking appropriate action to keep workers healthy and safe on the job.”

In October 2021, OSHA plans to issue an “advance notice of proposed rule-making on heat injury and illness prevention.” Once that happens, OSHA will start gathering information and technical expertise on heat safety topics that could eventually help shape a new federal standard for heat safety.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 43 workers in the U.S. died from heat illness in 2019, with at least 2,410 more suffering from serious heat-related injuries or illnesses. To keep this number from rising, OSHA will implement an “enforcement initiative” of heat standards across many industries, even those not typically associated with heat safety.

Said Jim Frederick, OSHA’s acting assistant secretary: “While agricultural and construction workers often come to mind first when thinking about workers most exposed to heat hazards, without proper safety actions, sun protection and climate-control, intense heat can be harmful to a wide variety of workers indoors or outdoors and during any season.’

This enforcement initiative will require OSHA area directors to focus on heat safety standards in the following ways, according to the statement:

  • Prioritize inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals and employer-reported illnesses, and initiate an onsite investigation where possible.
  • Instruct compliance safety and health officers to conduct an intervention on jobsites, discussing the importance of easy access to cool water, cooling areas and acclimatization. They may also open an inspection if they observe employees performing strenuous work in hot conditions.
  • Expand the scope of other inspections to address heat-related hazards where worksite conditions or other evidence indicates these hazards may be present.

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