To combat the hazards associated with extreme heat exposure indoors and outdoors, the White House announced enhanced and expanded efforts the Department of Labor is taking to address heat-related illnesses, according to www.osha.gov.
Although heat illness is largely preventable, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure. Despite widespread underreporting, 43 workers died from heat illness in 2019, and at least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illnesses.
Increasing heat precipitated by climate change can cause lost productivity and work hours resulting in large wage losses for workers. The Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center estimates the economic loss from heat to be at least $100 billion annually, which could double by 2030 and quintuple by 2050 under a higher emissions scenario.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is implementing an enforcement initiative regarding heat-related hazards, developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections and launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard. OSHA also is forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to provide better understanding of challenges and identify and share best practices to protect workers.
OSHA implemented an intervention and enforcement initiative recently to prevent and protect workers from heat-related illnesses and deaths while they are working in hazardous hot environments. The initiative prioritizes heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80 F.
The OSHA initiative applies to indoor and outdoor worksites in general industry, construction, agriculture and maritime where potential heat-related hazards exist. On days when a recognized heat temperature can result in increased risks of heat-related illnesses, OSHA will increase enforcement efforts. Employers are encouraged to implement intervention methods on heat priority days proactively.
NRCA will be active as the OSHA rulemaking process moves forward and will encourage the agency to take advantage of the significant efforts already underway in the ANSI A10.50 heat stress standard development process. Heat stress is a complicated health hazard that must be addressed in a comprehensive manner to reduce worker injuries and deaths.