Across the nation in recent weeks, we have seen record heat. These alarming temperatures are not merely an annoyance. They can put thousands of workers at risk.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is aware of the danger that extreme heat can bring to the work site, so in April 2022, the agency unveiled a National Emphasis Program (NEP) that focused on both indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards. And on July 20, 2022, the White House reported that OSHA had inspected 564 workplaces for instances of heat-related illness since the NEP was announced. The White House went on to say that OSHA’s efforts would “protect millions of workers from heat illness and injury.”
What Does the NEP Do?
The NEP was designed to direct attention to 70 high-risk industries, which include construction, manufacturing, automotive, and landscaping. OSHA Area Offices have adopted the practice of monitoring heat warnings and advisories from the National Weather Service, then making heat inspections on those applicable days. The agency offices are working from random lists and making inspections with no advance warning. OSHA is also prioritizing inspections based on worksite complaints, as well as hospitalizations or fatalities resulting from heat.
How Should Employers Keep Workers Safe?
OSHA requires that during times of extreme heat, employers must follow all applicable safety practices. These include allowing frequent breaks, providing water, and training everyone on heat-related dangers. Employers should have in place a Heat Illness Prevention Plan. Details of such a plan include the following:
- Acclimating new workers or those returning to the worksite after time away, so they can get used to a full day of heat
- Providing ample cool water and making sure workers are drinking enough
- Allowing and encouraging workers to take regular breaks from the heat
- Ensuring that there are shady or air-conditioned areas for those rest periods
- Monitoring the temperature and work levels on the worksite
- Training everyone on the site to recognize the signs of heat-related illness and know how to respond
- Encouraging a buddy system, so workers look out for one another
In addition, OSHA partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to create a Heat Safety Tool App. It provides the current heat index for users’ geographical location, provides heat forecasts and risk levels, makes preventive recommendations, and advises on the signs and symptoms of heat-related issues. This app can be a good resource for all work sites.