Both indoor and outdoor workers can be exposed to working conditions made hazardous by heat, and this past summer’s record-breaking temperatures have made it impossible for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ignore the dangers of work-related heat stress and exposure.
Record-breaking heat in the United States in 2021 endangered millions of workers, exposing them to heat illness and injury in both indoor and outdoor work environments. Workers without adequate climate-controlled environments are at risk of hazardous heat exposure, and workers of color are exposed disproportionately to hazardous levels of heat in essential jobs across these work settings.
In concert with a Biden-Harris administration interagency effort and its commitment to workplace safety, climate resilience and environmental justice, OSHA is published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings on Oct. 27, 2021. OSHA is interested in obtaining additional information about the extent and nature of hazardous heat in the workplace and the nature and effectiveness of interventions and controls used to prevent heat-related injury and illness. Currently, despite much discussion over the years, the agency does not have a specific standard for hazardous heat conditions and work-related heat stress and this action begins the process to consider a heat-specific workplace rule.
“As we continue to see temperatures rise and records broken, our changing climate affects millions of America’s workers who are exposed to tough and potentially dangerous heat,” said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “We know a disproportionate number of people of color perform this critical work and they, like all workers, deserve protections. We must act now to address the impacts of extreme heat and to prevent workers from suffering the agony of heat illness or death.”
The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will initiate a comment period to gather diverse perspectives and expertise on topics, such as heat-stress thresholds, heat-acclimatization planning and exposure monitoring. Shareholders can submit comments at www.regulations.gov, the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal, and refer to Docket No. OSHA-2021-0009. All comments must be submitted by Dec. 27, 2021.
“While heat illness is largely preventable and commonly underreported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure, and in some cases, heat exposure can be fatal,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick. “The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings is an important part of our multi-pronged initiative to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hazardous heat.”
Heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related workplace hazards. To help address this threat, OSHA implemented a nationwide enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards, is developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections and forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to provide a better understanding of challenges and identify, and share best practices to protect workers.
Heat stress is a well-known and largely preventable hazard both indoors and outdoors, and the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) has long supported the development of a standard to combat heat-related illnesses. ASSP released a statement saying it is encouraging OSHA to simplify the required implementation process of any new standard and review the regulatory approaches taken by several state-plan states.
“We have long viewed government action as a cornerstone of the occupational safety and health profession,” said ASSP President Brad Giles, P.E., CSP, STS, FASSP, GIOSH. “Legislation and regulation affect every safety professional, so it is vital that our members and the public learn and understand the positions of our Society.”
ASSP is also working with its A10 Committee for Construction and Demolition Operations to create a voluntary national consensus standard on heat stress management for construction and demolition operations. The new standard will establish minimum requirements for heat illness prevention and hazard management.