OSHA National Emphasis Program on Heat Illness Prevention Focuses on Increased Worker Safety & Protection

OSHA National Emphasis Program on Heat Illness Prevention Focuses on Increased Worker Safety & Protection

While most of the US is experiencing chilly winter weather right now, many Industrial Hygiene (IH) and Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) professionals are already thinking about the warmer seasons and the hot summer temperatures that bring serious risks for workers. To help ensure their safety in these conditions, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) last April to focus on indoor and outdoor heat safety for all employees exposed to such environments.

This program includes several measures designed to help reduce heat stress among workers, which could lead to illnesses like heat stroke or exhaustion. The (NEP) means there will be an increase in the number of OSHA inspections to target industries and a national spotlight on worker heat safety. Employers are expected to provide safety training, proactively monitor at-risk environments, and develop a safety plan for both identifying potential hazardous areas and post-incident actions. This includes monitoring the temperature and humidity levels of work areas as well as assessing the level of physical exertion required by workers in hot settings. Furthermore, it encourages employers to provide sufficient breaks in cool environments whenever possible and ensure workers have access to plenty of water during their shifts.

OSHA has also emphasized that there must be clear communication between employers and their staff when it comes to understanding any potential risks associated with working in those conditions. This means making sure everyone is aware of signs of heat-related illnesses, preventive measures for avoiding them, and ways to seek medical attention if needed.

In the end, OSHA's new National Emphasis Program highlights the importance of taking extra steps to protect workers from potentially life-threatening temperatures when working outdoors or indoors in high-heat places. By following its guidelines, employers can better safeguard employees from related dangers while still managing productivity levels accordingly.

What Can Employers Expect to Happen During a Heat-Related Inspection?

Regarding heat, the following are incorporated into the NEP in section XII(D)(2) as directions to those duty officers conducting the site visit. Here is a summary of some key points of interest for site inspections.

1. Determine if the employer has a heat illness and injury program addressing heat exposure, and consider the following:

  • Is there a written program?
  • How did the employer monitor ambient temperature(s) and levels of work exertion at the worksite?
  • Was there unlimited cool water easily accessible to the employees?
  • Did the employer require additional breaks for hydration?
  • Were there scheduled rest breaks?
  • Was there access to a shaded area?
  • Did the employer provide time for the acclimatization of new and returning workers?
  • Was a “buddy” system in place on hot days?
  • Were administrative controls used (earlier start times and employee/job rotation) to limit heat exposures?
  • Did the employer provide training on heat illness signs, how to report signs and symptoms, first aid, how to contact emergency personnel, prevention, and the importance of hydration?

2. Document conditions relevant to heat-related hazards, including:

  • The heat index and additional weather data from that day, e.g., heat alerts from the NWS, weather information from saving a screenshot on a mobile phone or tablet. Additional information may be needed or indoor heat investigations
  • Observe and document current conditions and those at the time the incident occurred (for unprogrammed inspections), including:
    • Observed wind speed
    • Relative humidity
    • Dry bulb temperature at the workplace and in the shaded rest area
    • Wet-bulb globe temperature at the workplace (ensure the equipment has been properly calibrated prior to use)
    • Cloud cover (no clouds, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%)
    • Existence of any heat advisories, warnings, or alerts the previous days.

Who is Affected by the NEP on Heat Safety?

The NEP is already in effect and will remain in effect for three years. It applies to all industries (general industry, construction, maritime, and agriculture), but it specifically targets industries exposed to heat-related hazards.

The NEP applies when employees are exposed to outdoor heat at or above 80°F with the humidity at or above 40 percent. This program does not apply to incidental exposure, which exists when an employee is not required to perform a work activity outdoors for more than fifteen minutes in any sixty-minute period.

Bakeries and Tortilla Factories are included in target industries for the Heat Safety National Emphasis Program

Heat & WBGT Monitoring Solutions for Employers

Indoor Environmental Monitoring

Kestrel® Heat Stress Monitoring System. With real-time remote access to critical data, leaders have the information to make timely decisions to prevent workplace heat-related injuries and incidents. The Kestrel 5400 Heat Stress Tracker with LiNK wirelessly connects via Bluetooth to the easy-to-read, wall-mounted remote monitoring tablet showing current data. Use the Kestrel LiNK app to manage and log work conditions, view graphs, and create shareable reports.

Outdoor Environmental Monitoring

The Kestrel 5400 Heat Stress Tracker is a trusted and accurate handheld, portable WBGT (Wet Bulb Globe Temperature) measurement tool and environmental data logger. Getting accurate measurements couldn’t be easier: just hold the Kestrel Heat Stress Tracker in the area of interest for both instantaneous and average WBGT measurements.  Set the appropriate WBGT thresholds for flag warnings, and the loud buzzer, bright LED beacon, and on-screen warnings provide instant notification of dangerous conditions. The Kestrel 5400 even comes preprogrammed with several athletics, industrial, and military guidelines to further ease the set-up process.

Kestrel 5400 Heat Stress Tracker

Pair the Kestrel 5400 with the optional Kestrel Vane Mount for hands-free measurements over the course of the practice, training session, or workday.  And for maximum functionality, choose the Kestrel 5400 with LiNK to transmit live measurements to your phone or tablet when you’re within range. Learn more about Kestrel LiNK.

Be Prepared to Protect Workers

With ongoing federal efforts for formal regulation, several state initiatives, and regional and local emphasis programs enforcing heat-related directives based on the NEP, employers cannot afford to be caught unprepared.

As we get closer to warm weather months, employers must be ready for the likelihood of more frequent inspections and higher expectations. Now is the time to prepare and put a plan in place to protect your workers and your business.

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