Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a heat hazard alert to remind employers of their obligation to protect workers against heat illness or injury in outdoor and indoor workplaces.
The department also announced that OSHA will intensify its enforcement where workers are exposed to heat hazards, with increased inspections in high-risk industries like construction and agriculture. These actions will fully implement the agency’s National Emphasis Program on heat, announced in April 2022, to focus enforcement efforts in geographic areas and industries with the most vulnerable workers.
The action comes as President Biden announced new actions to protect workers from extreme heat and new investments to protect communities, as historically high temperatures break records and expose millions of people to the serious dangers of heat in the workplace.
“Historically high temperatures impact everyone and put our nation’s workers at high risk,” said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. “A workplace heat standard has long been a top priority for the Department of Labor, but rulemaking takes time and working people need help now. Today, at the President’s request, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a heat hazard alert to make sure employers follow current standards and that workers across the country know their rights. This action, combined with OSHA’s increased heat-safety enforcement efforts, shows that we are determined to protect the safety and health of millions of people whose jobs become more hazardous in harsh weather.”
Since 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 436 people have died due to workplace heat exposure, with an annual average of 38 deaths between 2011 to 2019. In addition, an average of 2,700 cases involving heat illnesses lead to days lost at work, putting an additional economic burden on workers and employers. Statistics show that people who work in conditions without adequate climate-control face higher risks of hazardous heat exposure and that these situations disproportionately expose people of color to hazardous heat.
In October 2021, OSHA began the rulemaking process to consider a heat-specific workplace standard by publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings in the Federal Register.
“As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration works toward proposing a rule to protect workers from heat illness, we are taking several measures today to better protect workers in extreme heat,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “Employers have a duty to protect workers by reducing and eliminating hazards that expose workers to heat illness or injury.”
OSHA uses hazard alerts to provide specific information on safety and health hazards to employers, workers and other stakeholders. An alert describes the hazard and offers recommendations on how hazardous exposures can be eliminated or reduced and what actions employers should take to protect employees. The alert issued today does the following:
- Highlights what employers can and should be doing now to protect employees.
- Ensures employees are aware of their rights, including protections against retaliation.
- Highlights steps OSHA is currently taking to protect workers.
- Directs employers, employees and the public to crucial OSHA resources, including guidance and fact sheets on heat.
“State laws that attempt to limit workers’ access to basic heat-illness prevention measures send a dangerous message that employers are not responsible for providing employees with a safe work environment. In fact, that is simply not the case. Regardless of their job or where in the nation they work, workers have the right to a safe and healthy workplace. OSHA will use every tool and mechanism at our disposal to enforce those rights and make sure that every employee ends their workday safe and healthy,” Parker added.
As the rulemaking process for a proposed heat-specific workplace standard continues, OSHA has moved to protect workers from excess heat in the workplace by taking the following actions:
- Developing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards.
- Launching of a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections.
- Creating the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health’s Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to understand challenges and share best practices to protect workers.
- Launching a Heat Illness Prevention campaign to educate employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat.