DOL Moves Heat Safety Rule Draft Forward

MONDAY, MAY 13, 2024


Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor took an important step towards addressing workplace heat safety, publishing a draft rule’s initial regulatory framework at the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health meeting.

The committee reportedly unanimously recommended that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration move forward on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. As part of the rulemaking process, the agency will seek and consider input from stakeholders and the public at-large as it works to propose and finalize its rule.

“Workers at risk of heat illness need a new rule to protect workers from heat hazards. OSHA is working aggressively to develop a new regulation that keeps workers safe from the dangers of heat,” explained Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker.

“As we move through the required regulatory process for creating these protections, OSHA will use all of its existing tools to hold employers responsible when they fail to protect workers from known hazards such as heat, including our authority to stop employers from exposing workers to conditions which pose an imminent danger.”

In the interim, OSHA says it will continue to direct significant existing outreach and enforcement resources to educate employers and workers and hold businesses accountable for violations.

According to the department, record-breaking temperatures across the nation have increased the risks people face on-the-job, especially in summer months. Each year, dozens of workers reportedly die and thousands more suffer illnesses related to hazardous heat exposure that are most often preventable.

Additionally, the agency continues to conduct heat-related inspections under its National Emphasis Program – Outdoor and Indoor Heat-Related Hazards, which launched in 2022. Since the launch, OSHA has reportedly conducted almost 5,000 federal heat-related inspections. 

Employers are required by law to protect workers from the dangers of heat exposure and should have a proper safety and health plan in place. At a minimum, OSHA says, employers should provide adequate cool water, rest breaks and shade or a cool rest area.

Employees who are new or returning to a high heat workplace should also be allowed time to gradually get used to working in hot temperatures. OSHA adds that workers and managers should be trained so they can identify and help prevent heat illness themselves.

“No worker should have to get sick or die because their employer refused to provide water, or breaks to recover from high heat, or failed to act after a worker showed signs of heat illness,” Parker added.

Heat Standard Input

In June last year, OSHA urged small business owners and local government representatives to discuss the potential impacts of a workplace heat standard on small businesses.

According to the release at the time, OSHA said it was developing a potential standard for workplaces—in which the agency has jurisdiction—to prevent heat illness and injury in outdoor and indoor environments in general industry and in the construction, maritime and agriculture industries.

As part of the process, OSHA held Small Business Advocacy Review Panel meetings throughout the summer to gather views on the potential effects of a heat standard on small businesses.

The panel was comprised of representatives from OSHA, the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy and the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

OSHA added that, while the panel welcomed representatives from any industry, the group was interested particularly in collecting input from industries the agency expects would be most affected by a heat standard. These industries included agriculture, construction, landscaping, manufacturing, oil and gas, warehousing, waste management, utilities and food service, specifically in restaurant kitchens.

Originally published on Oct. 27, 2021, in the Federal Register, the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings rulemaking seeks to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hazardous heat. In addition, the rulemaking also seeks to obtain additional information about the extent and nature of hazardous heat in the workplace and the nature and effectiveness of interventions and controls used to prevent heat-related injury and illness.

First Construction Heat Standard

In February, the American Society of Safety Professionals issued the first national voluntary consensus standard to address heat stress for construction and demolition workers. According to the news release from ASSP, ANSI/ASSP A10.50-2024, Heat Stress Management in Construction and Demolition Operations:

  • Offers guidance on protecting workers;
  • Explains how to acclimate workers to high heat conditions; and
  • Provides requirements for training employees and supervisors.

The standard also contains checklists and flowcharts designed to help companies develop clear and effective heat stress management programs that bridge the regulatory gap.

The A10.50 standard also reportedly identifies engineering and administrative controls a company can implement to ensure that workers get rest, water breaks and shade while still meeting business needs.

The ASSP recommended actions as medical monitoring and using a buddy system to reduce risks and help prevent heat-related illnesses in many work environments.

While the scope of the standard focuses on construction and demolitions, the guidance can be adapted to protect workers performing other outdoor jobs such as tree trimming, farming, road maintenance and pipeline painting.

The impacts of heat stress can range from mild symptoms such as heat rash and heat cramps to severe conditions including heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can be fatal, ASSP says.

The A10.50 subcommittee that wrote the standard consisted of 30 safety and health experts from businesses, trade unions, consulting firms, universities and government agencies. The process reportedly took three years.

   

Tagged categories: Construction; Department of Labor; Good Technical Practice; Hazards; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Heat-related injury; Labor; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Program/Project Management; Regulations; Safety; Workers

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