As part of a White House interagency effort and its commitment to workplace safety, climate resilience and environmental justice, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration posted an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) on Oct. 26 for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings. The advance NOPR initiates a comment period for gathering a variety of perspectives and expertise on topics such as heat-stress thresholds, heat-acclimatization planning and exposure monitoring. OSHA does not currently have a specific standard for hazardous heat conditions, so this will help the agency begin consideration of such a rule for workplaces.
According to OSHA, heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related workplace hazards.
“Record-breaking heat in the U.S. in 2021 endangered millions of workers exposed to heat illness and injury in both indoor and outdoor work environments. Workers in outdoor and indoor work settings 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,” the agency stated in its press release for the advance NOPR.
“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 Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “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.”
The White House also released a statement on the issue, noting that, “As with other weather events, extreme heat is gaining in frequency and ferocity due to climate change, threatening communities across the country.”
The statement added, “In fact, the National Weather Service has confirmed that extreme heat is now the leading weather-related killer in America. Rising temperatures pose an imminent threat to millions of American workers exposed to the elements, to kids in schools without air conditioning, to seniors in nursing homes without cooling resources, and particularly to disadvantaged communities.”
In addition to its advance NOPR, OSHA has already implemented a nationwide enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards. It is also developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections and is 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 to identify and share best practices to protect workers.
For additional information on the genesis of a national heat standard and some of the reasons behind it, check out “Beat the Heat: Is an OSHA Heat Standard on the Horizon?” in the August 2021 issue of SAFETY LEADER.