Editor's Note

No Stress: Safety is Heating Up

In our issue this month, we are highlighting the hazards workers are faced with when they work in extreme temperatures.

Despite the fact that just a few weeks ago, most of the country saw sweeping cold fronts, snow and ice, a lot of eyes are on the summer, specifically the summer heat and the risks it brings to workers. In our issue this month, we are highlighting the hazards workers are faced with when they work in extreme temperatures. You’ll find several articles under the topic, “Summer Hazards” in this issue, but I also wanted to take some space here to talk about the heat standard we may soon see from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

On October 27, 2021, OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or an ANPRM stating that it had officially begun the rulemaking process to create a federal standard to protect workers against injury and illness related to extreme heat in both indoor and outdoor workplaces.

In the ANPRM, OSHA said, "A standard specific to heat-related injury and illness prevention would more clearly set forth employer obligations and the measures necessary to more effectively protect employees from hazardous heat. The agency stated that the ultimate goal is to prevent and reduce the number of occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities caused by exposure to hazardous heat.”

The ANPRM discusses recognized strategies to reduce occupational heat-related injury and illnesses, these include engineering controls such as air conditioning and increase ventilation and administrative controls such as reduced workloads or flexible work schedules. OSHA also emphasized the importance of acclimatization, or gradual, rather than sudden, exposure to promote a more robust physiological response. Other items recognized include employee monitoring, emergency planning and worker training and engagement.

Following OSHA’s announcement for the new heat standard, the agency asked for comments from members of the public about the extent and nature of hazardous heat in the workplace as well as the nature and effectiveness of interventions and controls used to prevent heat illnesses currently. The agency said it will review and analyze all material in the public rulemaking period to determine if and how it should proceed with rulemaking. This comment period will end on January 26, 2022.

So, looking towards the future: as I mentioned before, the current ANPRM comment period is open until January 26, once the comment period closes, OSHA will determine if a rule is necessary. If it does, then it will publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for which there will be an additional comment period. Finally, after that comment period, OSHA can publish a final rule.

The advance notice of proposed rulemaking comes at a time when states around the country begin to record record-breaking temperatures. Heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related phenomena, and it is becoming more dangerous as 18 of the last 19 years were the hottest on record.

Excessive heat can cause heat stroke and even death if not treated properly. It also exacerbates existing health problems like asthma, kidney failure, and heart disease. Workers in agriculture and construction are at the highest risk, but the problem affects all workers exposed to heat, including indoor workers without adequate climate-controlled environments.

This article originally appeared in the March 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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