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                                                      OSHA Unveils Program to Protect Workers from Heat Hazards

In April, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a new national emphasis program to reduce “workplace heat-related illnesses and injuries”, and to immediately “improve enforcement and compliance efforts, while continuing long-term work to establish a heat illness prevention rule.” The program takes effect immediately.


In a press release, the Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh stated: “Tragically, the three-year average of workplace deaths caused by heat has doubled since the early 1990s. These extreme heat hazards aren’t limited to outdoor occupations, the seasons or geography. From farm workers in California to construction workers in Texas and warehouse workers in Pennsylvania, heat illness–exacerbated by our climate’s rising temperatures–presents a growing hazard for millions of workers.”


OSHA plans to increase its enforcement of heat-related workplace safety. OSHA will “proactively initiate inspections in over 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for a local area. On days when the heat index is 80° F or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will engage in proactive outreach and technical assistance to help stakeholders keep workers safe on the job. Inspectors will look for and address heat hazards during inspections, regardless of whether the industry is targeted in the [National Emphasis Program].”


These new steps taken by OSHA are designed to safeguard that workers go home safe at the end of the day, so employers should be ready to work with OSHA personnel to safeguard that workers do not suffer heat-related injury. Employers should pay special attention to new hires that have yet to become acclimated to workplace heat and workers over sixty, who are generally less able to handle heat. However, all workers that are subject to heat in the workplace should be monitored for heat-related illness.


OSHA has published warnings on heat exposure that emphasize keeping an eye out for heat-related problems before they become serious Some of the heaviest types of work include:

  • Any activity done at near maximum pace

  • Climbing stairs, ladder, or ramp

  • Using an ax

  • Intense shoveling or digging

  • Sledgehammer use

  • Stacking concrete

  • Brick or stone masonry

  • Firefighting

  • Rapid marching or physical fitness training


These types of activities can involve farm or factory work, welding, roofing, working with hot tar, or working in a bakery or metal shop. It can also involve carrying heavy loads indoors or out. Work that elevates a worker’s heart and respiration rates through exertion is work that can lead to heat-related injury. Workers exposed to such conditions should be given rest breaks, work during the cooler parts of the day, and frequent water breaks. According to OSHA, when temperatures are above 77°F (25°C), there is a high risk of heat-related illness with strenuous work.

Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness

OSHA lists the symptoms of heat-related illness as “thirst, irritability, a rash, cramping, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.” Signs of heatstroke include “unconsciousness, confusion, disorientation, or slurred speech.” Other symptoms include a very high body temperature and a rapid heart rate. If a worker suffers from heatstroke, cool him or her down immediately and call 911.


Heat exhaustion occurs when a worker can no longer work because he or she is too tired from the heat to continue working. A worker suffering from heat exhaustion may experience nausea or vomiting, as well as a higher than normal body temperature and a high heart rate. Allow the worker to rest, give water, and cool him or her down. For the other symptoms, the remedy is to cool the worker down, give water, and allow him or her to rest. Provide water to workers in hot environments so they may maintain a healthy electrolyte balance.


Conclusion

By working together, OSHA’s program will ensure that workers know their rights and employers meet their obligations to protect workers from the growing dangers of extreme heat. Because OSHA plans to step up enforcement efforts with this new program, employers should ensure that their employees are protected from heat-related illnesses in the workplace.


If you have any questions regarding OSHA’s new program to reduce workplace heat-related illnesses and injuries, or if you need additional information about this program, please check out my website at www.employment-law.net or contact me for a FREE confidential consultation at (916) 333-4653 or Stephen_Fiegel_Esq@comcast.net.   

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