OSHA Issues Heat Hazard Alert and Warns of Increased Enforcement
On July 27, 2023, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a Heat Hazard Alert, warning employers that it will carry out more inspections in “high-risk industries like construction and agriculture” to make sure workers are protected from heat illness or injury. The alert states that employers have a “legal and moral responsibility not to assign work in high heat conditions without protections in place for workers.”
Since 2021, OSHA has been working on, but has not yet finalized, a proposed specific standard on heat illness prevention. In the meantime, employers should be aware of the following:
- In 2022 OSHA launched a National Emphasis Program on heat hazards that targets 70 industries, including not only construction and agriculture, but also landscaping and roofing, ship and boat building, warehousing and storage, waste collection, and foundries and bakeries, among others.
- Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, known as the General Duty Clause, requires employers to provide a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards … likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” That includes protecting employees from serious heat-related injuries. Currently OSHA relies mostly on the General Duty Clause when issuing heat-related citations.
- In addition, failing to provide adequate heat-related training and personal protective equipment can be considered violations of specific OSHA standards.
- Some states that run OSHA-approved “state plans” for occupational safety and health have adopted heat-related hazard prevention regulations that employers in those states must comply with.
- Beyond OSHA actions, heat-related injuries can lead to worker’s compensation claims, and exposing employees to dangerously hot conditions can result in criminal prosecution.
To reduce the risks of potential liability associated with employing workers in hot conditions, businesses should consider implementing a heat illness prevention plan and training employees on the components of the plan. A prevention plan could incorporate precautions like these:
- Provide rest breaks at regular intervals
- At outdoor worksites, provide shaded areas with misters for employees to cool off during breaks if possible
- Provide cold water and/or sports drinks for employees
- Monitor employees for signs of heat-related illness
- Improve ventilation and air flow where possible
- Make air conditioning and fans available where possible
- Give new employees less strenuous tasks as they get acclimated to working in the heat
- Train employees on the dangers of heat illness and on how to respond to a heat-related emergency
Not considering prevention strategies like these can put workers at risk and lead to legal issues for businesses.
If you have questions about the application of OSHA regulations or how to address heat hazards in the workplace, contact the Maynard Nexsen’s Employment & Labor Law Group.
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