OSHA’s National Heat Illness Emphasis Program and its Impact on Employers | woodruff sawyer
This article provides an overview of the new efforts and how they will affect employers.
What’s in the new program?
Federal OSHA had already implemented a pre-existing heat illness prevention campaign. the new regulations the effort began in October 2021 with a advance notice of regulatory proposal. The directive creating the National Emphasis Curriculum was released on April 8, 2022.
These three elements are linked by allowing OSHA to immediately begin enforcement of the National Emphasis Program (NEP) under the General Duty Clause, while skipping the required awareness period by declaring that the campaign in course serves as a required 90-day outreach effort. The third leg of the stool will be the regulations, assuming they go through the enactment process.
The new rule would allow federal OSHA to enforce specific pieces of regulation rather than relying on the general duty clause as it will have to do initially. In what could be considered a foreshadowing comment, the NEP encourages duty officers to consider whether or not an employer’s heat illness prevention program is written down. A written program is not required by specific federal regulations at this time.
Of the three elements, the most immediate challenge facing employers is the accent program itself. The program will focus on industries that OSHA says are most likely to experience heat-related illnesses among workers. In states that already have their own regulations or emergency regulations such as California, Washington, Minnesotaand Oregon, state regulations do not always address both indoor and outdoor heat. This NEP addresses both forms of heat exposure, which may cause these states to expand the way they inspect workplaces. The proposed settlement outlines the plans in place in those states and what they do and do not cover. To see Table II, D.1.
Federal OSHA does not require state plan states to adopt NEP, but strongly encourages them to do so. Federal OSHA, however, requires state plan states to respond with their intention to adopt or not adopt NEP within 60 days.
What type of workplace is most likely to receive a visit under this NEP?
Although any employer can be visited if OSHA receives a complaint, a heat-related illness occurs, a heat-related observation is brought to OSHA, or they are visited for other processes OSHA enforcement, the NEP describes employers by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Codes that will be more likely to have heat-related visits than others.
The NEP guideline outlines the methodology by which employers will be added to the visit list and includes variables such as employers who may already be scheduled for a follow-up visit or who have had heat issues in the past, as well as grouping of NAICS codes from which a list of visits will be randomly generated. This list below is described by the NAICS codes of the 2017 version of the code.
The tables below outline the general industry (Table 1), construction (Table 2), and potential additions to regional groups (Table 3) that will be incorporated into the randomization process. It is important to remember that when inspectors are out in the field and feel they are observing heat issues during visits focused on other issues, these employers can be added to the inspection list regardless of the NAICS code.
It is also important to remember that this NEP covers both indoor and outdoor exposures.
When should employers expect to receive heat-related visits?
Scheduled tours based on the NAICS codes above will take place on days when the National Weather Service has announced a heat warning or advisory. Here are the NEP definitions for these terms:
- Heat Notice-Take action! A heat advisory is issued within 12 hours of the onset of extremely hazardous heat conditions. The general rule for this advisory is that the maximum heat index temperature should be 100°F or higher for at least 2 days, and nighttime air temperatures will not drop below 75°F.
- Excessive heat warning-Take action! An Excessive Heat Warning is issued within 12 hours of the onset of extremely hazardous heat conditions. The general rule for this warning is that the maximum heat index temperature should be 105°F or higher for at least 2 days and that nighttime air temperatures will not drop below 75°F.
Although it is not clear if all scheduled visits will take place during these warning and advisory days, we do know that some will take place at this time. The duty officer will observe your plan in action and interview your employees about any heat-related symptoms and whether or not the plan is being implemented.
“In addition, scheduled inspections must occur each day the NWS has announced a heat warning or advisory for the local area.” –the NEP
Additionally, there are guidelines in the NEP document for visits based on field observations, field referrals, complaints, serious injury report follow-ups, and 300 heat-related journal entries.
At least some of these types of visits will have to do with what is observed at your location during hot days or complaints that occur during days that fall within the heat parameters defined in the NEP appendix G.
In summary, your plan should be in place and used during hot weather, and you should expect the likelihood of an OSHA visit to increase during hot days and directly following a hot weather event.
What can you expect during a visit?
The NEP outlines the activities expected of their Duty Officers specifically related to heat, but you should also expect these Duty Officers to ask questions about other topics or interact with you using the Full View Doctrine. . If they see a danger, they can fix it no matter what.
With respect to heat, the following is incorporated into the NEP at Section XII(D)(2), as guidance to service agents conducting the site visit.
- Review OSHA 300 logs and 301 incident reports for any entries indicating heat-related illness(es).
- Review all records of heat-related emergency room visits and/or ambulance transport, even if there was no hospitalization, [this may require the use of a Medical Access Order].
- Ask workers about symptoms of headaches, dizziness, fainting, dehydration or other conditions that may indicate heat-related illnesses, including new employees and employees who have recently returned to work.
- Determine if the employer has a heat-related illness and injury program that addresses heat exposure, and consider the following:
- Is there a written program?
- How did the employer monitor ambient temperature(s) and work effort levels in the workplace?
- Was there plenty of fresh water readily available to employees?
- Did the employer require additional breaks for hydration?
- Were there scheduled breaks?
- Was there access to a shaded area?
- Has the employer provided time for acclimatization of new and returning workers?
- Was a “buddy” system in place on hot days?
- Were administrative controls used (earlier start times and employee/job rotation) to limit heat exposures?
- Has the employer provided training on the signs of heat, how to report signs and symptoms, first aid, how to contact emergency personnel, prevention and the importance of hydration?
- Document conditions relevant to heat hazards, including:
- The heat index and additional weather data for that day, e.g. NWS heat alerts, OSHA-NIOSH data Thermal Safety Tool Application, saving a screenshot on a mobile phone or tablet. Additional information may be required or interior heat surveys
- Observe and document current and incident conditions (for unscheduled inspections), including:
- Observed wind speed
- Relative humidity
- Dry bulb temperature in the workplace and in the shaded rest area
- Workplace wet globe temperature (ensure equipment has been properly calibrated before use)
- Cloud cover (no clouds, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%)
- Existence of heat advisories, warnings or alerts in previous days.
6. Identify activities related to heat hazards. These may include, but are not limited to:
- Potential sources of heat-related illnesses (for example, working in direct sunlight, in a hot vehicle or in hot air areas, near a gasoline engine, furnace, boiler or pipes steam)
- Use of heavy or bulky clothing or equipment, including personal protective equipment
- Estimate workload efforts by observing the types of tasks performed by employees and whether these activities can be categorized as moderate, heavy, or very heavy work, considering both average workload and workload maximum working
- Duration of exposure during which a worker continuously or repeatedly performs moderate to intense activities.
With three separate federal efforts underway, multiple state initiatives, a current Region VI focus program in place to AR, LA, NM, OK, TXand with changes occurring at a rapid pace based on the NEP, it could be a confusing year for employers.
As the weather warms up. you may want your safety department to work on your heat illness prevention program after reading the NEP and monitoring current regulatory efforts to ensure you are in compliance. Most employers ensure that their employees are not exposed to harmful levels of heat. Making sure you’re up to date with the latest information and getting credit for what you’re doing can be helpful if you’re faced with a compliance visit.