OSHA released an outline of potential options for its proposed Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings standard, giving employers an idea of what may be coming.
The document is a regulatory framework for a heat injury and illness prevention rule the agency envisions as “a programmatic standard that could require employers to create a plan to evaluate and control heat hazards in their workplace.”
The agency said it has identified several options for control measures based on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Criteria for a Recommended Standard, existing state standards and stakeholder comments.
“Many of these options look familiar to anyone who does business in a state plan state with a heat standard,” according to law firm Ogletree Deakins.
There are some possible exemptions
The standard could cover both indoor and outdoor work in all industries where OSHA has jurisdiction. However, OSHA is considering exempting:
- short duration exposures, such as 15 minutes of work in hazardous heat conditions every 60 minutes
- emergency operations
- work in spaces where mechanical ventilation keeps working areas below certain conditions with possible administrative controls required if the mechanical ventilation is not operable
- work done from home, and
- sedentary or light activities performed indoors, if these are the only activities performed during the work shift.
Written prevention program likely required
Employers would likely be required to create written heat injury and illness prevention programs containing:
- procedures to identify when heat hazards exist for employees
- procedures for implementing engineering controls
- procedures for implementing administrative controls
- high-heat procedures
- procedures for when employees are exhibiting symptoms of heat-related illness and emergency response procedures
- training of employees and supervisors, and
- selection of designated individuals to oversee and implement the program, including environmental monitoring.
Ogletree Deakins said a few potential new factors could be included in the standard, including options for dry climates that have lower than 30% relative humidity and for employees who wear vapor-impermeable PPE.
2 heat triggers under consideration
The document also suggests that OSHA is considering two heat triggers: an initial heat trigger and a high-heat trigger. The initial one would trigger the heat illness and injury prevention program while the high-heat version would trigger high-heat procedures.
OSHA is considering options for these triggers based on ambient, heat index and wet bulb globe thermometer measurements. The triggers are also based on whether the employer is using a weather forecast or measuring the temperature onsite.
For example, with the initial heat trigger, OSHA is considering 78 degrees Fahrenheit or above for the ambient temperature if the employer is using a forecast and 82 degrees or above if the employer is measuring the heat onsite.
Under the same parameters, the high-heat trigger would be 86 degrees when using a forecast and 90 degrees when measuring.
If an employer relies solely on the weather forecast, OSHA may require controls to be implemented for the entire day when the forecasted daily maximum heat index or ambient temperature is at or above the forecast heat triggers. However, if onsite monitoring is used, the agency is considering requiring that controls only be implemented for the hours of the day when the monitored heat index or ambient temperature is at or above the trigger temperatures.
A provision for cool-down areas would be part of the standard for both indoor and outdoor work sites. OSHA is considering alternatives including the provision for shaded and air-conditioned spaces, but as Ogletree Deakins points out, how these alternatives differ from cool-down areas is “a bit vague.”
Reducing exposure to indoor heat sources
For indoor spaces with heat-generating sources in the work area, OSHA is considering a requirement that would have employers reduce employee exposure by:
- installing local exhaust ventilation at the sources of the heat
- erecting shielding or barriers that reflect or absorb heat along with any radiant heat
- isolating the source of radiant heat from the workforce
- increasing the distance of employees from those sources, and
- modifying hot processes or other operations.
OSHA is considering administrative controls similar to ones seen on state plan heat injury and illness standards such as making cool drinking water available as close to the work area as possible and encouraging employees to drink more water, along with:
- altering work schedules
- holding a pre-shift meeting or otherwise notifying employees when the high-heat trigger is met or exceeded
- notifying employees when high-heat procedures are in effect
- reminding employees of their rights to take rest breaks as needed
- making employees aware of the locations for water, shade and cool-down areas for mobile work sites
- designating employees to call 9-1-1 in a medical emergency, and
- restricting access to excessively high heat areas in indoor environments and placing warning signs outside or near these areas.
Acclimatization of new and returning employees to these environments would also be required.
Employers may have to consider hazards specific to the work site
Further, the standard may require employers to consider heat hazards specific to their work site and evaluate the potential use of cooling PPE, such as cooling vests. Employers may also be required to reconsider use of any PPE that traps heat.
“Employee training, medical treatment and heat-related emergency response procedures will likely be components of a heat standard,” according to Ogletree Deakins. “The emergency response components will likely impact other employer responsibilities, including maintenance of emergency response plans that provide a method for employees to clearly identify where help is needed when calling first responders.”
There will also likely be a variety of recordkeeping requirements under the proposed standard, with the majority of those carrying an obligation of maintaining them for the duration of a worker’s employment, plus 30 years as exposure records.