OSHA Releases Annual Heat Hazard Reminder

MONDAY, JULY 6, 2020

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued its annual reminder to employers “of their duty to protect employees from the risks and dangers of heat exposure.”

The message, as usual, emphasizes water, rest and shade, as well as monitoring physical exertion.

OSHA lists the following as ways employers can work to mitigate heat hazards:

OSHA is directing professionals to its Occupational Heat Exposure page, which explains symptoms of heat illness as well as first aid measures, proactive engineering controls and work practices to reduce workers’ exposure to heat.

Heat-Related History

Last year, 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.

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 in 2018 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.

In August 2018, 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.

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.”

Tagged categories: Department of Labor; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Safety

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