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OSHA Launches National Emphasis Program on Outdoor and Indoor Heat Hazards

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The danger of extreme heat increases yearly, with 18 of the last 19 summers being the hottest on record. Workers suffer over 3,500 injuries and illnesses related to heat each year. In April, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched a National Emphasis Program to protect millions of workers from heat illness and injuries. Through this program, OSHA will conduct heat-related workplace inspections before workers suffer completely preventable injuries, conditions, or, even worse, fatalities.

What is the National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat? 

OSHA can now launch heat-related inspections on high-risk worksites before workers suffer preventable injuries, illnesses, or fatalities. The NEP is a nationwide enforcement mechanism for OSHA to proactively inspect workplaces for heat-related hazards. The focus will be on general industry, maritime, construction, and agriculture operations alleging hazardous heat exposure. 

“Our goal is to make it safe for workers in hot indoor and outdoor environments so that they can return home safe and healthy at the end of each day.” 

Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, Doug Parker

What’s a Heat Priority Day?

The NEP establishes heat priority days when the heat index is expected to be 80°F or higher. OSHA conducts inspections in targeted high-risk industries on any day that the National Weather Service has announced a heat warning or advisory for the local area.

What are some industries where workers have suffered heat-related illnesses?

Hazardous heat exposure can occur indoors or outdoors and can occur during any season if the conditions are right – not only during heat waves.

OutdoorsIndoors
AgricultureBakeries, kitchens, and laundries (sources with indoor heat-generating appliances)
Construction – especially, road, roofing, and other outdoor workElectrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms)
Construction – roofing workFire Service
LandscapingIron and steel mills and foundries
Mail and package deliveryManufacturing with hot local heat sources, like furnaces (e.g., paper products or concrete)
Oil and gas well operationsWarehousing

How can employers take action to protect workers from heat illness?

The NEP encourages employers to protect workers from heat hazards by providing employees access to water, rest, shade, and adequate training. Workers who have not spent time recently in warm or hot environments will need time to build tolerance (acclimatize or, less frequently used, acclimate) to the heat. Most outdoor fatalities, 50% to 70%, occur in the first few days of working in warm or hot environments because the body needs to gradually build a tolerance to the heat over time. 

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