OSHA Moves Forward with the Federal Heat Exposure Standard

By Alana Smart / May 14, 2024 / Blog ,

OSHA Moves Forward with the Federal Heat Exposure Standard

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health has unanimously recommended that the agency moves forward with the federal heat exposure standard. As temperatures continue to rise globally, ensuring the safety of workers exposed to extreme heat has become a pressing issue. Every year, thousands of workers experience preventable heat-related illnesses. Consequently, dozens of workers die as a result.

OSHA is making significant strides toward establishing a federal heat exposure standard to protect workers indoors and outdoors. For employers, staying informed and proactive about these developments is crucial to maintain compliance and safeguard employee health.

Progress in Rulemaking

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced on May 8 that the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health unanimously recommended that OSHA proceed with the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for a heat injury and illness prevention standard. This recommendation marks a crucial step forward in OSHA’s rulemaking process, which began in October 2021 with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM). 

Concurrently, OSHA will seek input from various stakeholders. Feedback from employers, workers, advocacy groups, and the public ensures the proposed rule is comprehensive and practical.

Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker emphasized the importance of this regulatory advancement in a press release, saying, “Workers at risk of heat illness need a new rule to protect workers from heat hazards. OSHA is working aggressively to develop a new regulation that keeps workers safe from the dangers of heat.”

In the interim, OSHA is directing substantial resources towards outreach and enforcement to ensure employers adhere to existing regulations. This includes utilizing the General Duty Clause (§5(a)(1)) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 to hold employers accountable for protecting workers from known heat hazards. Record-breaking temperatures have amplified the risks, making this a critical focus area.

OSHA’s National Emphasis Program (NEP) for heat-related hazards, launched in 2022, plays a pivotal role in this effort. The program has proactively conducted nearly 5,000 heat-related inspections since its inception. They have targeted workplaces with the highest exposure to heat hazards to prevent injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

“As we move through the required regulatory process for creating these protections, OSHA will use all of its existing tools to hold employers responsible when they fail to protect workers from known hazards such as heat, including our authority to stop employers from exposing workers to conditions which pose an imminent danger.”

Special Focus on Vulnerable Workers

Particular emphasis is placed on agricultural industries that employ temporary, nonimmigrant H-2A workers. These workers are especially vulnerable to heat stress due to factors such as language barriers, limited control over their living and working conditions, and potential lack of acclimatization. These workers often face the highest risks and require targeted interventions to ensure their safety.

Moving Forward

As OSHA progresses toward finalizing the federal heat exposure standard, employers must stay informed and engaged in the regulatory process. By adopting current best practices and preparing for the forthcoming regulations, employers can significantly enhance worker safety and mitigate the risks associated with heat exposure.

Employers must prioritize heat safety measures to protect their workforce from the dangers of heat stress and heat-related illnesses. OSHA’s proactive approach and the forthcoming heat standard represent a significant step towards ensuring safer working conditions in high-risk industries.

Employers are encouraged to visit OSHA’s website for detailed information on its rulemaking process and heat safety initiatives. By and large, staying informed and proactive is the most important. Employers can foster a safer, healthier work environment and ensure compliance with evolving safety standards. For more information about keeping your employees safe during the hotter months, visit our Heat Safety Checklist.

In conclusion, as OSHA moves forward with the federal heat exposure standard, it marks a significant step in protecting workers. Employers play a vital role in this effort by implementing effective heat safety practices and preparing for forthcoming regulations. OSHA’s mission is to ensure that workers are safe from the dangers of heat. This goal requires collective action and diligence from all stakeholders involved.



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