OSHA’s Heat Stress Safety Enhancements to Heat Related Illness, September 2021

OSHA announced on 09-20-2021 they are “enhancing” regulations and efforts the Department of Labor provides to address heat stress safety and related illness associated with hot weather. These new heat stress safety program will be put into place to protect workers in hot environments and reduce the dangers of exposure to ambient heat.

OSHA states, “While heat illness is largely preventable, and commonly under-reported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure.”

The action OSHA is implementing is a heat stress safety enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards which will include developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections, and launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard.

OSHA will form the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention. This committee will gather information and provide understanding of the challenges and how to identify and share best practices to protect workers.

Just recently, OSHA implemented an “intervention and enforcement initiative” to prevent and protect workers from heat-related illnesses and deaths while they are working in hazardous hot environments, such as Construction. The newly established initiative prioritizes heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees.

SSHO Responsibilities for Government Projects

The OSHA initiative applies to indoor and outdoor worksites in general industry, construction, agriculture and maritime where potential heat-related hazards exist. These new regulations will be important for Site Safety and Health Officers (SSHO’s) as well as Project Superintendents to be aware of.

Toolbox Talk for Heat Stress Safety

OSHA provides a downloadable pamphlet that you can use to conduct a meeting with a heat stress safety topic. Download the pamphlet here. Don’t forget to use your sign in sheet for the meeting!

So far, the following Heat Stress Safety inspections, reports, and investigations will be implemented

  • Prioritize inspections of heat-related complaints
  • Referrals and employer-reported illnesses and initiate an onsite investigation where possible.
  • Instruct SSHO‘s to conduct an intervention by providing OSHA’s heat poster and wallet card, include heat stress safety topics in meetings or toolbox talks. ensure easy access to cool water and inspect processes when employees will be performing strenuous work in hot conditions.
  • Expand the scope of other inspections to address heat-related hazards where worksite conditions or other evidence indicates these hazards may be present.

Sometime in October 2021, issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. After that, the normal comment period will occur. The comment period is where OSHA gathers different perspectives on topics such as heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, exposure monitoring, and strategies to protect workers.

While nothing new has been put in force now, once these rules have been put in place, government construction projects will all adapt to the new rules. We will assume here that the USACE/NAFFAC Accident Prevention Plan may require updates to the Heat Stress Monitoring Plan as well as any AHA’s where the features of work involve working in strenuously hot conditions.