OSHA’s Heat-Related Rulings Boost Demand for Better Worker Protection

OSHA’s Heat-Related Rulings Boost Demand for Better Worker Protection

With rising temperatures and high numbers of illnesses and injuries, here's how to comply.

Thousands of U.S. workers suffer heat-related injuries and illnesses every year. With the past seven years ranking as the hottest on record, heat injury and illness prevention are understandably top-of-mind concerns for employers—and OSHA.

In response to the rising number of serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) during the summer months, OSHA is rolling out heat-related workplace standards across at-risk industries. In October 2021, the agency released its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings in the Federal Register.

But while these new standards are helpful, protecting workers isn’t solely the responsibility of OSHA—employers must also do their part to keep contract and full-time workers safe from summer heat.

Why Do SIFs Spike in the Summer Months?

After analyzing more than 60,000 recordable incidents and data extracted from OSHA 300 Logs, ISN’s team discovered that the highest number of SIFs occur in July and August. Employees in industries like construction and agriculture tend to work longer hours in these months due to extended periods of sunlight. As a result, fatigue and reduced physical and cognitive reaction times can take a toll on these workers.

Severe heat exposure can also exacerbate existing health issues like kidney disease, heart ailments and asthma. Other heat-induced risks include rashes, cramps and in severe cases, heat strokes. These symptoms and illnesses pose a significant risk to workers, especially those who operate in dangerous conditions like at tall heights or with heavy machinery and equipment.

Summer is also a popular season for trips and time away from work, leaving less personnel to cover shifts—and placing overloaded workers at a heightened risk. With the nationwide labor shortage leaving many job sites understaffed, it’s more important than ever to ensure these workers have access to safe working conditions and adequate resources.

Ignoring the dangers of heat exposure jeopardizes not only worker safety but your entire business. Worker injuries and fatalities can result in thousands, or even millions of dollars in damages—in addition to reputational harm with prospective customers and employees. So, as temperatures rise and working hours grow longer, you need to take extra steps to protect your workers from heat-related injuries and illnesses.

The Three Ps of Worker Safety: Prepare, Protect and Prevent

Instead of simply checking off boxes to comply with OSHA’s heat-related rulings, take the next couple months as an opportunity to embed safe practices into your organization’s culture. Consider these three tips to create a safe and productive workplace environment this summer and beyond.

1. Develop a heat illness prevention plan. Every organization with workers at risk of heat exposure should develop and enforce a heat illness prevention plan. OSHA outlines several important considerations to include, like which employees should receive relevant trainings, how to measure heat severity, and which controls and work practices should be implemented to help reduce heat stress. The prevention plan should also standardize how workers respond to National Weather Service heat advisories and a method for new and temporary workers to develop heat tolerance.

Make these protocols and procedures accessible to all workers, whether you post fliers on job sites or hold daily safety meetings cautioning team members about heat-related risks. It’s also a good idea to gather feedback from workers to determine the effectiveness of your plan and identify areas of improvement.

2. Protect workers on site with heat-related protocols. Even a well-crafted heat illness prevention plan can lead to injuries if not enforced properly. Appoint an individual to monitor and respond to heat-related issues on site and empower them to enforce compliance with the organization’s heat illness prevention plan. Any employee from a safety manager to a foreman can fill this role as long as they are trained to identify and control heat hazards, know when and how to mobilize emergency services and can detect early symptoms of heat stress.

At the end of the day, everyone has a shared responsibility to look out for each other and understand heat-related protocols. And if your workforce is dispersed across multiple locations, the appointed heat safety representative should remain aware of best practices for remotely monitoring and reporting heat conditions—OSHA provides a useful tool to calculate heat stress for this exact scenario.

3. Utilize data to identify the root causes of SIFs. One of the most effective ways to prevent SIFs is to identify the leading causes with data and analytics. For example, our research shows that the leading cause of SIFs over the past three years was contact with an object or equipment, most frequently resulting in sprains, strains and tears to lower extremities.

With access to this type of information, you can assess past incidents and focus on areas for improvement. Conduct your data analysis as granular as possible—if applicable, evaluate data related to specific teams or worksites. By identifying the leading causes of SIFs, you may determine workers need additional training on specific pieces of equipment, they are fatigued due to elevated temperatures at a certain time of year, or maybe a one-person job should actually be performed by a pair of employees.

While the summer brings increased risk for workers in various industries such as construction, waste collection and landscaping, employers are responsible for protecting contract and full-time workers year round. And safety should never be an afterthought. By identifying and controlling workplace hazards, providing workers with standard procedures and preventing SIFs with data-backed insights, you can embed safe practices into your company culture and create a safe workplace for all.

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