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OSHA Issues Heat Reminder to Employers

Friday, July 19, 2019

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released a reminder for employers to protect their employees from the dangers of working in hot weather.

The message has three main components: water, rest and shade.

Heat-Related History

A few months ago, a Florida lawmaker introduced a bill that would set a statewide standard for those working outdoors in relation to heat illness prevention.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, would mandate that workers be given plenty of drinking water, access to shade and 10-minute rest breaks enforced after every two hours of outside labor.

In addition to access to water, shade and breaks, the Florida House bill, and its companion bill in the state Senate, would also require training to spot signs of heat exhaustion and an acclimatization period for workers.

© iStock.com / Double_Vision

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released a reminder for employers to protect their employees from the dangers of working in hot weather.

While OSHA has guidelines and recommendations to avoid heat hazards, there is no set standard for heat exposure.

The lack of a standard was called to task last year with a petition backed by more than 130 industry organizations.

Led by nonprofit Public Citizen, the petition called for OSHA to do more than just point to suggested guidelines provided by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and argued that, as the climate changes, workers are experiencing more and more heat stress every year, which can take a dangerous toll on the body.

“There is an undiagnosed epidemic of heat-related illness and death in this country, and the problem will get much worse very quickly because of global warming,” said David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program.

“Some of our most vulnerable workers are at the highest risk. We need to protect them right away, and we need aggressive action to halt greenhouse gas pollution and stop climate change.”

According to the government, 69,374 workers were seriously injured from heat between 1992 and 2016, and 783 U.S. workers died from heat exposure. By combining climate projects and census data, Public Citizen concluded that, by 2050, more than 1 million agriculture and construction workers will experience 30 days or more of dangerous heat per year.

While OSHA endorses NIOSH’s criteria, it has never created a nationally enforceable rule requiring employers to provide water, rest, shade and, more specifically, acclimatization programs or training to recognize symptoms of heat illness.

OSHA does provide visual indicators for heat index levels, which are the baselines for the NIOSH guidelines. However, those levels were also put under the magnifying glass last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees NIOSH.

Last summer, the CDC released findings from a study that determined whether the heat index limits are effective in protecting workers. The CDC retrospectively reviewed 25 outdoor occupational heat-related illnesses—14 fatal, 11 nonfatal—investigated by OSHA from 2011 to 2016.

Research found that heat stress exceeded exposure limits in all 14 fatalities and in eight of the 11 nonfatal illnesses.

© iStock.com / daizuoxin

Last summer, the CDC released findings from a study that determined whether the heat index limits are effective in protecting workers. The CDC retrospectively reviewed 25 outdoor occupational heat-related illnesses—14 fatal, 11 nonfatal—investigated by OSHA from 2011 to 2016.

OSHA recommends using the heat index to protect workers, and separates temperatures into four categories: less than 91 degrees Fahrenheit is a lower level risk that should be met with basic heat and safety training; 91 to 103 degrees is a moderate risk and at that time employers should implement precautions and heighten awareness; 103 to 115 degrees is high risk and additional precautions to protect workers should be taken; and greater than 115 degrees is considered a very high to extreme risk and should trigger “even more aggressive protective measures.”

“Although OSHA does not have an enforceable permissible exposure limit for heat stress, OSHA guidance states that a heat index of [less than 91 degrees Fahrenheit] is associated with ‘lower’ risk of heat-related illness unless other factors (e.g., direct sun, little air movement, strenuous workload or nonbreathable clothing) are present,” the report states.

“However, six of 14 deaths in this report occurred when the heat index was [less than 91 degrees]. Additional evidence supports the possibility of serious illness when the heat index is [less than 91 degrees].”

The Reminder

OSHA pointed to the Heat Safety Tool it has with NIOSH, which displays the head index levels and associated risks.

In the memo OSHA says that employers should:

  • Encourage workers to drink water every 15 minutes;
  • Take frequent rest breaks in the shade to cool down;
  • Develop an emergency plan that explains what to do when a worker shows signs of heat-related illness;
  • Train workers on the hazards of heat exposure, and how to prevent illness; and
  • Allow workers to build a tolerance for working in heat.

   

Tagged categories: Department of Labor; Good Technical Practice; Government; Health and safety; NA; NIOSH; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Safety

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