Heat Protection Update: OSHA Standard Nears, New Resources, and New Studies – Duncan Financial Group
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Heat Protection Update: OSHA Standard Nears, New Resources, and New Studies

Heat Protection Update: OSHA Standard Nears, New Resources, and New Studies

OSHA takes critical step to finalize worker heat protection rule

With most of the country likely to see above-average temperatures in June, July, and August, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) seasonal temperature outlook, OSHA is prioritizing education and enforcement around heat-related hazards. Federal OSHA could publish a notice of proposed rulemaking for its standard on protecting workers from heat as soon as Sept. 30, according to acting Labor Secretary Julie Su. On April 24, the OSHA Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health unanimously recommended that OSHA “move forward expeditiously” on a notice of proposed rulemaking for a new heat standard. As part of the rulemaking progress, OSHA will continue to seek input from stakeholders and the public. The rule is expected to address both indoor and outdoor work settings.

In the interim, OSHA has ramped up its enforcement resources through the General Duty Clause and the National Emphasis Program (NEP) related to heat illnesses and injuries for both outdoor and indoor workers. Since the launch of the NEP in 2022, OSHA has conducted nearly 5,000 federal heat-related inspections. In addition, the agency is prioritizing programmed inspections in agricultural industries that employ temporary, seasonal, nonimmigrant H-2A workers.

Some questions and factors for employers to consider with OSHA’s stringent new heat rule on the horizon:

    1. When was the last time you conducted a hazard analysis of all your job duties that could involve exposure to extreme heat, both indoors and outdoors? OSHA encourages stakeholders to use this checklist to help identify potential sources of heat hazards in the workplace and develop a plan to address and respond to these hazards.
    2. Do you have a written heat safety and health plan? Have you evaluated how effectively it works? While the details of the new rule are unknown, it’s anticipated it will include a requirement for a written heat injury and illness prevention program, mandatory workplace education and training, requirements for regular breaks, easy access to clean water, an acclimatization schedule for new, temp, or returning workers, recordkeeping and documentation provisions, and protective equipment like hats and cooling vests. Given its broad scope covering wide-ranging conditions in multiple sectors throughout the country, it’s expected to include some flexibility for employers to tailor the heat injury and illness prevention program to their workplace.
    3. Have you trained managers to spot potential illnesses and problems and have you educated workers on how to prevent heat illness? Have you documented training? Have you implemented a buddy system for hot day work?
    4. Do you have the medical capability to handle heat illnesses or proper protocols in place to get outside medical assistance? Do you provide medical screening in advance to identify those workers most at risk working in high heat?
    5. Have you considered engineering controls and best work practices that could mitigate risk? If uncomfortable, workers may neglect to use some PPE designed to keep them safe in the heat – how do you enforce its use?
    6. What apps and tools do you use to monitor weather advisories and warnings? OSHA currently recommends using wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) devices to track workplace heat.
    7. How and who determines that work should be paused or canceled? Have you documented these situations?

For more information on federal OSHA compliance, click here.

New tools
NOAA and CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched a Heat and Health Initiative that has three resources. Developed in partnership with NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) an experimental tool called HeatRisk provides information and guidance about heat risks when temperatures rise. It considers how unusual the heat is for the time of the year, the duration of the heat including both daytime and nighttime temperatures, and if those temperatures pose an elevated risk of heat-related impacts based on data from the CDC. It’s supplementary to official NWS heat products and is meant to provide risk guidance for those decision-makers who need to take actions at levels that may be below current NWS heat product levels.

The HeatRisk Dashboard integrates the forecast tool with other data, including local air quality, to inform workers on how best to protect themselves when outdoor temperatures are high and could impact their health. The clinical guidance is designed to give medical professionals insights that can help keep at-risk individuals safe when heat and air quality reach dangerous levels.

OSHA

OSHA has developed two new resources that are available for download. The Heat Emergency Wallet Card provides a quick overview of emergency signs and symptoms and the key steps to take when a heat emergency arises. The wallet-sized card can fit in ID badge holders.

The Working in the Heat: Know the Hazards Brochure is a pocket-sized resource providing information on the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment for heat illness.

For engaging training, OSHA suggests a gameshow format tool that was submitted by Raytheon Missiles & Defense and Raytheon Intelligence & Space in last year’s heat contest. It’s an interactive tool that can be used by a single user or to facilitate a friendly team competition related to both indoor and outdoor heat.

More evidence excessive heat increases the frequency of injuries

Examining work injuries caused by direct and indirect heat exposure, a new study, “Impact of Excessive Heat on the Frequency of Work-Related Injuries“, from the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) has found that the probability of work-related accidents increases 5 to 6 percent when the temperatures rise above 90 degrees. For workers in the South, that likelihood rises to 9 percent for a 90-95-degree day and 11 percent for a 95-degree or higher day. Direct heat exposure involves the effect of heat on a worker’s body leading to heat exhaustion or other issues. Indirect exposure involves cases where workers suffer injuries from accidents such as falling off ladders when heat impairs cognitive or motor function. Researchers also examined the connection between heat exposure and traumatic injuries, finding that the risk for traumatic injuries increases in cases of external heat exposure and internal heat generated by physical exertion.

Additionally, the study found that the effect of heat on the workplace is stronger in the construction industry, with injuries rising 14 percent when the temperature rose to between 90 and 95, and 20 percent when the temperatures rose to 100 degrees. Other industries with a higher risk of heat injury or illness include mining, quarrying, oil and gas, manufacturing, waste management and remediation services, transportation and warehousing. Agriculture, construction, transportation and warehousing, and waste management and remediation services experience the highest rates of heat-related mortality rates.

While the report acknowledges acclimatization and safety measures can reduce the incidence of heat-related work accidents, they may not be enough. Researchers recommended employers take greater safety precautions to protect employees who work in hot temperatures.

Similarly, The New York State Insurance Fund, the largest provider of workers compensation insurance in the state, released a healthcare-focused report that found New York workers are 45 percent more likely to file a workers compensation claim on high-heat days and injuries occurring on those days are likely to be 20 percent more severe.

Schedule an appointment with a financial professional for more information regarding heat protections and what they mean for you financially.