Practical EHS Tips, News & Advice. Updated Daily.
The signs are clear that federal and state occupational safety and health officials are intently focused on the risks of excessive heat and are responding with outreach, regulation, and enforcement:
The consequences of worker heat illnesses can be dire and can include hospitalization and death. At a worksite in Inman, Nebraska, a worker collapsed after working 12½ hours and was pronounced dead of hyperthermia, with a body temperature of 106.3 degrees Fahrenheit (F).
In Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest, as temperatures neared 100 degrees, a member of a crew assigned to clear invasive plants began sweating heavily. His hands were trembling, and he seemed confused and unable to respond to commands, according to an inspection report. The worker rested while other crew members finished their tasks. The man was later found unresponsive. Without a cellphone signal, workers had to get help from a ranger station 14 miles away from the jobsite. By the time an ambulance arrived, the worker had stopped breathing, and responders found no pulse. The worker was transported to a hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead.
OSHA’s NEP targets over 70 industries that OSHA considers “high risk” based on incidence reports to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, elevated numbers of fatalities and hospitalizations reported to OSHA, and high numbers of General Duty Clause violations and Hazard Alert Letters issued over a 5-year period (January 2017 through December 2021). Targeted industries include those in the agricultural, construction, manufacturing, and wholesale sectors, as well as automobile dealerships, postal service, and freight and rail transportation.
Under the NEP, area offices can initiate inspections when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or an advisory for the local area. However, OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) in area offices may conduct self-referred inspections, and area offices may act on referrals from the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.
During a heat-related inspection, agency CSHOs will:
During an inspection, agency personnel will evaluate the employer’s heat illness and injury prevention program, examining employee training on heat illness signs, prevention, and the importance of hydration; how employees are instructed to report signs and symptoms; and procedures for first aid and contacting emergency personnel.
An evaluation of a heat illness and injury prevention program will look at whether it is a written program and whether it includes heat-acclimatization periods for new and returning workers. Inspectors also will want to know how ambient temperatures and levels of work exertion at the worksite are monitored. OSHA personnel also will want to know the following:
Because there is no federal heat stress or heat illness prevention standard, OSHA cites employers for heat-related illnesses and fatalities under the General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1)) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
In 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission vacated an OSHA heat illness citation and questioned the agency’s use of the General Duty Clause.
On August 1, 2012, an A.H. Sturgill Roofing crew was working on replacing an approximately 18-foot-high, large, flat roof of a bank in Miamisburg, Ohio. A member of the crew, a 60-year-old man with preexisting medical conditions that included congestive heart failure and hepatitis C, collapsed and began shaking. Emergency medical personnel transported the worker to a nearby hospital, where his core body temperature was determined to be 105.4 degrees F. The worker later died. A coroner determined that complications from heat stroke were the cause of death.
In citing the employer, OSHA alleged that Sturgill exposed the employee to “excessive heat while working on a commercial roof in the direct sun.”
The commissioners ruled that OSHA and a commission administrative law judge erred when they concluded that an excessive heat hazard existed at the time of the worker’s collapse. The commissioners pointed to evidence that when work began, the temperature was approximately 72°F, with 84% relative humidity. When the worker collapsed, the temperature was approximately 82°F, with 51% relative humidity.
The commissioners also concluded that that day’s tasks were not strenuous:
Members of the federal review board called the agency’s use of the General Duty Clause for hazards, injuries, and illnesses not covered by a formal safety and health standard a “gotcha” or “catchall.”
Commissioners concluded that employers are left confused about compliance when OSHA fails to set a formal standard. They argued that Congress’s intent was for the Labor Department to set standards for hazards identified under the General Duty Clause.
The review commission ruling challenged OSHA’s normal operating procedures for addressing heat stress and heat illness hazards without a specific standard. Several lawmakers have introduced bills in Congress that would have compelled OSHA to establish a federal heat standard.
Then on September 20, the White House announced a multiagency effort to protect communities and workers from extreme heat. OSHA immediately released an enforcement initiative and announced plans for an NEP and a rulemaking to address heat hazards in indoor and outdoor work settings.
On October 27, OSHA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) that contained no proposed regulatory text but 114 questions for stakeholders about a potential standard. While OSHA’s NEP targets some 70 industries, a federal heat standard could apply to hundreds. In its ANPRM, the agency reported a least 1 heat-related inspection in 0ver 230 industries across indoor and outdoor work settings since 2018. It also noted 789 heat-related hospitalizations and 54 heat-related fatalities across nearly 275 industries where the agency conducted inspections and issued citations.
OSHA also is considering whether a federal standard would apply to small businesses, noting a study that found that almost half of workplace heat-related fatalities occurred in “very small establishments” with fewer than 10 employees.
The agency expressed interest in receiving comments on the:
Heat illnesses include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Heat stroke is the most serious and can lead to permanent disability or death. It happens when the body can no longer control its temperature. The body’s sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. With heat stroke, the body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes.
Heat stroke requires emergency medical treatment.
Heat illness prevention, as detailed in existing state regulations, includes acclimatization programs, work practices like scheduling work for cooler days or cooler times of day or splitting shifts to reduce individual workers’ exposures, and procedures for responding to heat illness emergencies, as well as training and access to cool water, shade, or air-conditioned structures or vehicles and scheduled and requested rest breaks.
NIOSH recommends an acclimatization schedule involving a day of limited heat exposure for new and returning workers, followed by days of increased exposure. The institute’s formulas are:
Key control measures in a heat illness prevention program include access to cool drinking water (potable, cooler than 59°F, and accessible to the work area), shade, and rest breaks. Workers and supervisors also should receive training in the signs and symptoms of heat illness and emergency response procedures. A buddy system pairs off workers who observe each other during a work shift for signs and symptoms of heat illness. It also is critical to have a person on-site trained and equipped to render first aid in an emergency and to have the means on-site to summon emergency medical services.
Now that more regions of the country are experiencing periods of excessive heat and agencies are establishing regulation and enforcement, heat illness prevention is becoming an essential part of workplace safety and health management.
The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires pictograms on labels to alert users of the chemical hazards to which they may be exposed. Each pictogram consists of a symbol on a white background framed within a red border and represents a distinct hazard(s). The pictogram on the label is determined by the chemical hazard classification.
Do your employees know how to handle hazardous materials safely? Here are 11 basic rules all employees who handle hazardous materials should know and follow.
Why reinvent the wheel when there are so many ready-made safety observances to link up to? The National Safety Council (NSC) publishes an annual list of safety meeting topics. Here are some highlights.
The State of Safety and Beyond Survey gathered the insight of 314 environment, health, and safety (EHS) professionals about how their organizations are dealing with current safety challenges and what they’re expecting in the future. These concerns run the gamut from the very real threat of COVID-19 to perennial issues such as training, leadership, safety […]
While we hope that fire extinguishers never have to be used, they still need to be inspected and maintained to ensure they are working properly in case an emergency occurs. In the Sure-Fire Guide to Fire Extinguisher Inspections, you will: Learn how often fire extinguishers should be inspected. Get a paper copy of KPA’s Monthly […]
Industry standards help set the foundation for a safety management system (SMS) that protects workers, but data gathering is the engine that drives it. The Intelex Insight Report “Safety Management Systems: Building a Foundation on Data,” explains what resources are available to help you create a system and identifies key SMS data-gathering components needed. Learn […]
Using the right tool to complete a task or project makes all the difference. For example, contractors wouldn’t use a drill to push in a nail, they’d use a hammer. The same holds true when it comes to general medical record documentation vs employee and occupational health recordkeeping. General healthcare practitioners focus their work on […]
Are you an environment, health, and safety (EHS) professional with something to contribute to your professional community? If so, we want to hear from you! As we build the EHS Daily Advisor community, we are looking for professionals, managers, and executives to be a part of our Faces of EHS profile series as well as contribute thoughtful content that can help our colleagues in the field with their compliance and cultural efforts. Learn more!
The mission of EHS On Tap is to provide clear, relevant, actionable information on topics that matter to EHS professionals in podcast form through engaging and insightful interviews with experts and thought leaders. Listen to the latest and subscribe!