Heat is one of the nation’s leading weather-related killers in the workplace, claiming 43 lives and causing over 2400 serious injuries and illnesses in 2019 alone.
As of April 8th, 2022, the US Department of Labor has launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP), as part of the Biden Administration’s commitment to workplace safety. National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) are temporary programs that focus OSHA's resources on particular hazards and high-hazard industries.
The NEP in question is for outdoor and indoor heat hazards and will be in effect for the next 3 years while OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) works towards creating and implementing a national heat standard. This NEP is a huge step forward, as OSHA seeks to increase compliance and prevent workers from suffering from preventable injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.
For the first time, OSHA can inspect workplaces who are putting their employees at risk by operating in hazardous conditions caused by the exposure to heat (either indoors or outdoors). As part of the NEP, OSHA have established heat priority days - these are classified as days where the heat index is expected to exceed 80˚F. On these days, OSHA will initiate compliance assistance and inspect any alleged heat-related issues, along with conducting pre-programmed inspections, and providing proactive outreach and technical compliance assistance to keep workers safe. The NEP also encourages employers to provide their employees with access to water, rest, shade, and training, and help acclimatize new or returning employees.
Every year there are far too many tragic deaths related to heat, which for the most part is preventable and should not be happening. These are wasted lives, and the lack of regulatory guidance and framework has enabled this to go on for far too long. Giving OSHA the power to enforce properly is going to be a driving factor towards change, and places more accountability on businesses to provide safer workplaces that ensure every person makes it home safe each day. With a greater level of understanding of the dangers of heat stress, and the risk of facing citations if improvements aren’t made, we should hopefully see businesses implement new policies that will help to prioritize the health of workers and lead to a reduction in heat related injuries and illnesses. This also paves the way for the new heat standard to be created, giving OSHA a better understanding of what safety protocols work, and where their greatest safety issues are occurring.
Visit the OSHA help page for information heat illness prevention. If you are an employer, learn how you can keep your employees safe. As an employee, learn about your rights and tips to help avoid heat illness when conditions are challenging.
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