This article provides an overview of the new effort and how it will affect employers.
What’s in the new program?
Federal OSHA had already implemented a pre-existing heat illness prevention campaign. The new regulatory effort began in October 2021 with advance notice of proposed rulemaking. The guideline for creating the national priority program was published on April 8, 2022.
These three elements tie together by allowing OSHA to immediately begin enforcing the National Emphasis Program (NEP) under the General Mandate Clause while skipping the required outreach period by declaring that the ongoing campaign as required 90-day outreach effort. The third leg of the chair will be the ordinance, provided it gets through the promulgation process.
The new regulation would allow federal OSHA to enforce specific regulatory elements, rather than relying on the general mandatory clause as it must initially. In what could be seen as anticipatory comment, the NEP encourages duty officers to check whether or not an employer’s heat illness prevention program is in writing. A written program is not currently required by specific federal regulation.
Of the three elements, the most immediate challenge for employers is the focus program itself. The focus of the program will be on industries that OSHA believes are most likely to have heat-related illnesses in workers. In states that already have their own regulations or emergency codes, such as California, Washington, Minnesota, and Oregon, state regulation does not always address both indoor and outdoor heat. This NEP addresses both forms of heat exposure, which may result in these states expanding the way they inspect workplaces. The proposed regulation outlines the plans in place in those states and what they do and don’t do. See Table II, D.1.
Federal OSHA does not require states with a state plan to adopt the NEP, but strongly encourages them to do so. However, federal OSHA requires plan states to respond within 60 days with their intent to accept or not to accept the NEP.
Which type of workplace is more likely to be visited within the framework of this NEP?
While any employer may receive a visit when OSHA receives a complaint, a heat-related illness occurs, a heat-related observation is reported to OSHA, or they are visited for other OSHA enforcement procedures, the NEP describes employers under North American Industry Classification System Codes (NAICS), who are more likely to have heat-related visits than others.
The NEP guideline describes the methodology by which employers are added to the visit list and includes variables such as employers who may already be scheduled for a follow-up visit or have had a history of heat illness issues, and a grouping of NAICS codes from which a visit list is generated. This list below is outlined by NAICS codes from code version 2017.
The following tables describe the general industry (Table 1), construction (Table 2), and potential regional group entrants (Table 3) that will be included in the randomization process. It is important to remember that these employers can be added to the inspection list regardless of the NAICS code as the inspectors are on site and feel they are observing heat illness concerns during visits focused on other issues .
It is also important to remember that this NEP covers both indoor and outdoor exposures.
When should employers expect heat-related visits?
Scheduled visits based on the above NAICS codes will take place on days when the National Weather Service has announced a heat warning or advisory. Here are the NEP definitions for these terms:
- heat advice-Take action! A heat warning is issued within 12 hours of the onset of extremely hazardous heat conditions. The general rule of thumb for this guide is that the maximum heat index temperature is expected to be 100°F or higher for at least 2 days and nighttime air temperatures will not drop below 75°F.
- Excessive heat warning-Take action! An excessive heat warning is issued within 12 hours of the onset of extremely hazardous heat conditions. The general rule of thumb for this warning is that the maximum heat index temperature will be 105°F or higher for at least 2 days and nighttime air temperatures will not fall below 75°F.
While it is not clear if all planned visits will take place during these warning and advice days, we do know that some will take place then. The duty officer will observe your plan in action and will interview your staff about heat-related symptoms and whether or not the plan is being implemented.
“Additionally, programmed inspections are to take place each day that the NWS has announced a heat warning or advisory for the local area.” – the NEP
In addition, the NEP document includes instructions for visits based on on-site observations, field referrals, complaints, follow-up to reporting serious injuries, and 300 estrus-related log entries.
At least some of these types of visits are related to what is observed on hot days at your site or to complaints occurring on days falling within the heat parameters listed in Appendix G of the NEP.
The long and short of this is that your plan must be in place and in use during hot weather, and you should expect the likelihood of an OSHA visit to increase on hot days and immediately after a heat episode.
What to expect when you visit?
The NEP outlines the activities expected of their duty officers specific to Heat, but you should also expect those duty officers to ask questions about other topics or interact with you using the plain sight doctrine. If they see a threat, they can address that threat regardless of the topic at hand.
With regard to heat, the following is included in the NEP in Section XII(D)(2) as direction to the duty officers conducting the on-site visit.
- Check OSHA 300 logs and 301 incident reports for entries indicating heat-related illnesses.
- Review all records of heat-related emergency room visits and/or ambulance transport, even if no hospital admissions have occurred. [this may require the use of a Medical Access Order].
- Question employees about symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fainting, dehydration, or other conditions that may indicate heat-related illnesses, including new employees and employees who have recently returned to the workplace.
- Determine if the employer has a heat illness and injury program that addresses heat exposure and consider the following:
- Is there a written program?
- How did the employer monitor the ambient temperature(s) and workload on site?
- Was there unlimited cool water easily accessible for employees?
- Did the employer request additional drinking breaks?
- Were there any planned breaks?
- Was there access to a shaded area?
- Has the employer provided acclimatization time for new and returning workers?
- Was there a “buddy” system on hot days?
- Have administrative controls been in place (earlier start times and staff/workplace rotation) to limit exposure to heat?
- Has the employer provided training on the signs of heat illness, reporting signs and symptoms, first aid, contacting emergency services, prevention, and the importance of staying hydrated?
- Document conditions relevant to heat-related hazards, including:
- The heat index and additional weather data from that day, e.g. B. Heat alerts from the NWS, data from the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App, saving a screenshot to a mobile phone or tablet. Additional information or research on internal heat may be required
- Observe and document current conditions and those at the time of the incident (for non-scheduled inspections), including:
- wind speed observed
- Relative humidity
- Dry bulb temperature at the workplace and in the shaded rest area
- Workplace wet-bulb temperature (ensure device is properly calibrated before use)
- Cloudiness (no clouds, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%)
- Presence of heat alerts, warnings or warnings in the past few days.
6. Identify activities relevant to heat-related hazards. These may include but are not limited to:
- Potential sources of heat-related illnesses (e.g., working in direct sunlight, a hot vehicle or areas with hot air, near a gas engine, furnace, boiler, or steam lines)
- The use of heavy or bulky clothing or equipment, including personal protective equipment
- Estimate workload by observing the types of work tasks performed by employees and whether these activities can be categorized as moderate, heavy, or very heavy work, taking into account both average workload and peak workload
- Duration of exposure during which a worker continuously or repeatedly performs moderate to strenuous activities.
With three separate federal efforts, multiple state initiatives, a current Region VI priority program for AR, LA, NM, OK, TX, and changes happening at a rapid pace based on the NEP, this could be a confusing year for employers.
When the weather gets warmer. You may want your safety department to work through your heat illness prevention program after reading the NEP and monitor current regulations to ensure you are compliant. Most employers make sure that their employees are not exposed to harmful heat. Making sure you have the latest information and getting credit for your work can be helpful when faced with a compliance visit.