June 26, 2022

Volume XII, Number 177


June 24, 2022

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Heating Things Up: OSHA Launches National Standard Outdoor and Indoor Heat Hazards

The safety world has been abuzz about the creation of a specific standard to protect workers from the hazards associated with extreme heat. On October 27, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings. 

This ANPRM kicks off the process of rulemaking to establish a specific standard on protecting employees from heat exposure. Most believe the impending standard will closely follow the Regional Emphasis Program of Region VI (Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico) that has been in place for more than 20 years.

OSHA claims the new standard addresses concerns with the ongoing effects of climate change and the disproportionate number of low-wage workers and workers of color who are exposed to high levels of heat, intensifying socioeconomic and racial inequalities.

In the interim and to protect workers until the final standard goes into effect, OSHA launched its first National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat. The NEP, which went into effect on April 8, 2022, targets the construction, agricultural, manufacturing, and transportation sectors. On days on which the temperature exceeds 80 degrees (nearly every day in the South from May through September), OSHA inspectors are instructed to prioritize heat-related inspections. Inspectors have been told to be “vigilant” in conducting their inspections and to:

  1. review OSHA 300 logs and 301 reports for entries indicating heat-related illness;

  2. review records of hospital visits for evidence of heat-related issues;

  3. interview workers for symptoms of heat-related illness;

  4. determine if the employer has a heat illness and injury program looking at key elements such as:

  • whether there is a written program.

  • did the employer provide training on heat illness signs, how to report signs and symptoms, first aid, how to contact emergency personnel, prevention and the importance of hydration?

  • were administrative controls used (earlier start times, job rotation) to limit heat exposure?

  • is there a buddy system in place on hot days?

  • did the employer provide time for acclimatization of new and returning workers?

  • whether there [is] access to shaded areas.

  • whether the employer requires hydration breaks and rest breaks.

  • whether workers have ready access to cool water.

  • how the employer monitors ambient temperatures and levels of work exertion.

If they have not done so already, employers should prioritize efforts to ensure that they are ready for such heat-related inspections by implementing the safety measures above to address hazards associated with heat. Although there is no specific standard at this time, OSHA will continue to issue citations under the General Duty Clause, requiring employers to furnish a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” While we do not yet know the exact language of the standard or when it may go into effect, the provisions of the NEP are a reasonable indication of what we can expect will be required going forward. 

© 2022 Jones Walker LLPNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 145

About this Author

Jane H. Heidingsfelder, Jones Walker, MSHA Employer Representation Lawyer, Injury Reporting Policy Attorney

Jane Heidingsfelder is a partner in the firm's Labor & Employment Practice Group in the New Orleans office. She has extensive experience representing clients in a wide array of industries before the Occupational Safety & Health Administration ("OSHA") and Mine Safety & Health Administration ("MSHA"). In particular, she is frequently asked to assist companies during on-site safety and health investigations, as well as in subsequent litigation with the Department of Labor. 

Ms. Heidingsfelder has defended clients in state and federal...