For the first time, OSHA has launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to protect workers across the nation from the threat of heat-related illnesses.
The NEP establishes a nationwide enforcement system for OSHA to proactively inspect workplaces for heat-related hazards across various high-risk industries, including construction, maritime, and agriculture operations. This means OSHA can now launch heat-related inspections on high-risk worksites before workers suffer completely preventable heat-related injuries.
According to OSHA, the danger of heat-related injuries increases each year. Heat-related illnesses and injuries affect over 3,500 workers each year and can, tragically, lead to death in some circumstances. The National Emphasis Program is expected to immediately improve employer compliance efforts with heat safety standards while the Department of Labor continues long-term work to establish a federal heat standard.
In an OSHA National News release, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh commented,
“Tragically, the three-year average of workplace deaths caused by heat has doubled since the early 1990s. These extreme heat hazards aren’t limited to outdoor occupations, the seasons, or geography. From farm-workers in California to construction workers in Texas and warehouse workers in Pennsylvania, heat illness presents a growing hazard for millions of workers. This enforcement program is another step towards our goal of a federal heat standard.”
The NEP encourages employers to protect workers from heat hazards by ensuring they have adequate access to water, rest, and shade, providing employees with training, and implementing acclimatization procedures for new or returning employees. During heat-related inspections under the NEP, OSHA field staff will engage in outreach and compliance assistance in line with these standards to help employers devise a plan to keep employees safe on the job.
Certain events outlined in the NEP may specifically trigger heat-related inspections, such as:
- When conducting other unrelated investigations, OSHA will open a heat-related inspection into any hazardous heat conditions observed or reported.
- When the heat index is forecast to be 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, OSHA will inquire about heat-related hazard prevention programs during inspections.
- When the National Weather Service (NWS) has announced a heat warning or advisory for a specific area, OSHA will use neutral criteria to select employers for pre-planned inspections in high-risk industries in the advisory region.
- When other divisions of the Department of Labor are performing unrelated investigations, they may refer information about potential heat-related hazards to OSHA, prompting an inspection.
During heat-related inspections, OSHA field staff may perform a number of duties. These include, reviewing incident reports for entries on heat-related illnesses, interviewing employees to look for signs of heat exhaustion, and checking that the employer is maintaining a prevention program that addresses hydration, breaks, shade, acclimatization, and training.
In preparation for these potential inspections, employers, especially those in high-risk industries such as construction, should act now to ensure that their current safety policies properly address heat-related hazards. The NEP went into effect on April 8, 2022, and will remain active for three years unless it is canceled or extended by a superseding directive.