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OSHA Focusing on Reducing Workplace Heat Stress

Jun 08, 2022 Heat-stressed male worker

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the summer of 2021 was the hottest on record for the U.S. In fact, 18 of the last 19 have been the hottest on record. As average temperatures and workplace deaths caused by heat continue to rise, OSHA is focusing on protecting workers from outdoor and indoor heat hazards during all seasons.

National Emphasis Program on Heat

Earlier this year, the agency announced its three-year National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s press release:

OSHA will proactively initiate inspections in over 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for a local area. On days when the heat index is 80°F or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will engage in proactive outreach and technical assistance to help stakeholders keep workers safe on the job. Inspectors will look for and address heat hazards during inspections, regardless of whether the industry is targeted in the NEP.

Learn more about the NEP on heat program here.

OSHA is reaching out to employers in target industries (including construction, maritime and agriculture), labor unions and others engaged in protecting the health and safety of employees. In addition, small- and medium-sized businesses can enlist the agency’s free On-Site Consultation Program for help in developing strategies to protect employees from heat-related illnesses and injuries.

Heat Illness Prevention Plan

Employers must provide a workplace free from known safety hazards. If heat stress is a known hazard, create and implement a heat illness prevention plan to prevent illnesses that could lead to fatalities. The plan should include the following four elements.

1. Heat index measuring and monitoring.

Managing heat stress begins with knowing the heat load within the work environment. Several tools can help.

  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed a Heat Safety Tool Smartphone App for iPhone and Android. This application calculates the heat index for a given location or zip code.
  • Simple systems are available off the shelf to relay temperature and humidity values to a handheld device or smartphone. Thermal temperature screening devices are also available for determining a person’s body temperature.
  • Alerts from the National Weather Service remind managers to provide heat and hydration breaks.

2. Evaluation of hazard control methods.

Determine what mechanisms are available or should be implemented. Consider the following.

  • Engineering controls – building ventilation, local cooling fans, and climate-controlled break areas.
  • Administrative controls – requiring breaks in climate-controlled areas during heat priority days, providing cool water (or electrolyte drinks or popsicles) or water coolers in the work area, and rotating job functions if possible to reduce exertion.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) – reflective clothing, cooling towels or neck wraps, or cooling vests for extreme conditions. Consider that regularly worn PPE such as respirators or hazardous materials suits can cause extra exertion stress and should be reviewed to ensure the employee is safe.

3. Training.

Coach employees about the plan and how to help prevent illness.

  • During new hire orientation, train new employees on heat stress, symptoms and how to properly prepare for work with appropriate clothing, hydration and rest.
  • Remind all employees, supervisors and managers annually and during hot weather about the importance of preparing for work with appropriate clothing, hydration and rest. Reinforce the message with periodic short safety talks, posters and team huddles.

4. Acclimating new employees, seasonal workers, and employees returning from leave.

Acclimatization is a method used to allow people to adjust to new or changing work environment conditions, including temperatures.

  • Supervisors should check in with new employees for their first few weeks. Stress the importance of reporting any symptoms.
  • Taper work duration for new and returning employees during hot conditions to help them build heat tolerance. Consider implementing the “rule of 20%” from OSHA. Employees work 20% of the typical workday on day one and increase that by 20% each day to an entire workday by day five. Have employees alternate work with training sessions or other tasks not in a hot environment.

Additional Resources

To learn more about heat-related illnesses and access additional resources, visit the OSHA heat exposure web page. If you have questions or concerns about your employee safety program, contact a Hylant loss control expert today.

Related Reading: Keep Your Teenage Seasonal Employees Safe This Summer

The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your insurance broker or trusted advisor for insurance-related questions.