White House, OSHA Look to Enhance Measures for Extreme Heat

White House, OSHA Look to Enhance Measures for Extreme Heat

As part of an interagency effort to protect workers, the Biden-Harris administration enables OSHA to begin rulemaking process for a federal standard.

It's no secret that things are heating up. In this year alone, many regions of the United States have seen record-breaking temperatures and higher-than-average reports of illnesses and fatalities due to hazards associated extreme heat. Local officials in Oregon and Washington state had been calling upon OSHA to create a federal standard that would address workers battling extreme heat, but until Monday, September 20, the calls had gone largely unanswered.

The White House has announced enhanced and expanded efforts the U.S. Department of Labor is taking to address heat-related illnesses. According to a press release, OSHA will be implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards, developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections, and launching a rulemaking processes to develop a workplace heat standard. The agency will also be forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to provide better understanding of challenges and to identify and share best practices to protect workers.

“Throughout the nation, millions of workers face serious hazards from high temperatures both outdoors and indoors. Amid changing climate, the growing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events is increasing the dangers workers face, especially for workers of color who disproportionately work in essential jobs in tough conditions,” said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in the press release. “As Secretary of Labor, my priority is to make sure we are taking appropriate action to keep workers healthy and safe on the job.”

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, including regularly taking breaks for water, rest, shade, training workers on how to identify common symptoms and what to do when a worker suspects a heat-related illness is occurring, and taking periodic measurements to determine workers’ heat exposure.

"Today, I am mobilizing an all-of-government effort to protect workers, children, seniors, and at-risk communities from extreme heat," said President Joe Biden in a statement from the White House. "The Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other agencies will work together to help ensure that the American people have safe and healthy working conditions, provide cooling assistance to homes and neighborhoods, and coordinate with state and local officials to bolster their resilience and address the impacts of this threat."

In October 2021, OSHA will take a significant step toward a federal heat standard to ensure protections in workplaces across the country by issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. The advance notice will initiate a comment period allowing OSHA to gather diverse perspectives and technical expertise on topics including heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, exposure monitoring, and strategies to protect workers.

To learn more about this initiative, visit osha.gov.

About the Author

Sydny Shepard is the former editor of Occupational Health & Safety.

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