Extreme heat can pose serious health risks, making it essential for employers to take proactive measures to protect their employees. The Biden Administration has taken significant steps to ensure workers and communities are shielded from heat-related risks. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has issued a heat hazard alert. Additionally, they are intensifying enforcement efforts to safeguard employees.
On July 27, OSHA issued its first-ever hazard alert specifically focusing on extreme heat and its impact on outdoor workers. The Hazard Alert reaffirms that workers have heat-related protections under federal law. It also aims to equip employers with valuable guidelines to safeguard their employees from heat-related illnesses. The critical steps that employers should take include:
- Adequate Water, Rest, and Shade: Employers should provide ample cool water, frequent rest breaks, and shaded or cool rest areas to give workers relief from the scorching heat.
- Gradual Acclimatization: For new or returning employees, it is crucial to allow a gradual acclimatization to high-heat conditions. This helps the body adjust to extreme temperatures more effectively.
- Training and Emergency Planning: Providing comprehensive training on heat-related illness prevention and recognizing the signs of heat-related issues is essential. Employers should also have a well-thought-out emergency plan in place.
- Monitoring for Warning Signs: Regularly monitoring employees for signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses. This is critical for early intervention and prevention.
The hazard alert is just one of the initiatives the Biden administration is undertaking to combat heat-related issues in the workplace. Another crucial measure is an increase in inspections in high-risk industries such as construction and agriculture.
“Historically high temperatures impact everyone and put our nation’s workers at high risk. A workplace heat standard has long been a top priority for the Department of Labor, but rulemaking takes time and working people need help now. Today, at the President’s request, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a heat hazard alert to make sure employers follow current standards and that workers across the country know their rights. This action, combined with OSHA’s increased heat-safety enforcement efforts, shows that we are determined to protect the safety and health of millions of people whose jobs become more hazardous in harsh weather.”
– Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su.
The alarming statistics provide justification for OSHA’s alert. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 2011 to 2019, 436 people lost their lives due to workplace heat exposure. The annual average is of 38 deaths per year. Additionally, around 2,700 heat-related illness cases lead to workdays lost, imposing an economic burden on both workers and employers.