The U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA have announced measures, including enhanced enforcement, to protect workers from the hazards of extreme heat – outdoors and indoors.
- implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards
- developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections
- launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard, and
- forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to identify and share best practices to protect workers.
The enforcement initiative applies to outdoor and indoor workers in general industry, construction, agriculture and maritime on days when a recognized heat temperature can result in increased risks of heat-related illnesses.
What inspectors will do
On those days, OSHA will increase enforcement by:
- prioritizing inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals and employee-reported illnesses
- instructing OSHA inspectors to intervene by providing guidance or opening an inspection when they observe workers performing strenuous work in hot conditions, and
- expanding the scope of other inspections to address heat-related hazards.
In October 2021, OSHA will issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat and injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor settings.
Watches and warnings
The National Weather Service (NWS) uses heat index to classify environmental heat in four categories:
- Caution (80-90º F)
- Extreme Caution (91-103º F)
- Danger (103-124º F), and
- Extreme Danger (125º or higher).
OSHA’s advanced inspections could kick in on days when the heat index reaches 80 or above.
Employers should become familiar with these advisories issued by the NWS:
- Heat Advisory: issued within 12 hours of extremely dangerous heat, with a maximum heat index predicted to be 100 or higher for at least two days, and night time temperatures 75 or above
- Heat Wave: when the daily maximum temperature exceeds 95 or when the daily maximum exceeds 90 and is 9º or more above the maximum reached on the preceding days
- Excessive Heat Warning: issued within 12 hours before extremely dangerous heat conditions, with a predicted maximum heat index of 105 or higher for at least 2 days and night time temperatures 75 or above
- Excessive Heat Watch: issued when conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event in the next 24 to 72 hours, and
- Excessive Heat Outlooks: issued when the potential exists for excessive heat in the next 3-7 days.
What employers should do
Employers should also familiarize themselves with OSHA’s Water, Rest, Shade recommendations to combat heat illnesses.
In 2019, 43 workers died from heat illness and at least 2,400 other suffered serious injuries and illnesses.
The Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center estimates the economic loss from heat for employers to be at least $100 billion a year.