Staying Cool: A Closer Look at OSHA's 2022 Emphasis on Heat Hazards
Heat-related illnesses are entirely preventable - OSHA's NEP on heat hazards will ensure that employers take steps to protect workers from them.
Millions of workers across a variety of industries face significant heat hazards, both indoor and outdoor. Despite its ubiquity - or perhaps because of it - many people don't take the heat seriously enough or take adequate measures to protect themselves from high temperatures.
In response to this issue, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat hazards in 2022. This initiative is a significant milestone in workplace safety, as it aims to give a push to heat-related safety and ensure that it is no longer overlooked.
The NEP does this by taking a proactive approach to protecting workers from heat-related illnesses and injuries. Rather than another information and awareness raising campaign, the NEP empowers OSHA to conduct a greater number of heat-related inspections to identify uncontrolled heat risks before workers succumb to heat stress.
The program targets more than 70 high-risk industries and inspections are initiated when the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory for the area. These additional inspections are not limited to the summer months, however. Due to hot indoor workplaces and unseasonably warm temperatures due to climate change, heat hazards are a year-long issue and OSHA is treating them as such.
What OSHA Is Doing to Protect Workers
In addition to increasing inspections, the National Emphasis Program on heat hazards will also include:
- Outreach to unions, employers in target industries, and organizations committed to workplace safety
- Free and confidential on-site consultations for small and medium-sized businesses to assist them in addressing heat hazards
- Taking steps toward implementing a federal heat standard
(Learn more about The Role of Heat in Workplace Incidents)
What You Can Do to Protect Workers
Employers and safety professionals should take steps to protect workers from heat-related hazards, whether or not they are subject to any heat-related inspections.
Here are some strategies OSHA recommends.
1. Engineering Controls
Engineering controls use mechanical means to cool the working environment and reduce physical exertion.
Examples of engineering controls for heat-related hazards include:
- Air conditioning
- Increased ventilation
- Misting fans that produce a fine spray of cool water droplets
- Reflective shields to redirect radiant heat
- Mechanical lifting equipment to reduce manual work
(Learn more in Are Heat Edemas a Safety Issue?)
2. Administrative Controls
When engineering controls are either not feasible or not sufficient, modifying work practices can provide additional protection.
Examples of administrative controls for heat-related hazards include:
- Adjusting work schedules to avoid outdoor work during peak temperatures
- Mandatory breaks in cooler environments
- Rotating job functions among workers to limit how long workers spend in hot spaces
- Providing workers with an adequate supply of water or electrolyte beverages and encouraging them to hydrate regularly
- An emergency plan specifying what to do if a worker shows signs of heat stress
(Find out more about Electrolytes: What They Are and Why They Matter for On-the-Job Hydration)
3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
When the environment is hot, specially designed PPE can keep workers cool. These either have a cooling effect on the body, manage sweat and moisture, or ventilate body heat to keep workers from overheating.
Examples of PPE to combat heat-related hazards include:
- Insulated suits
- Reflective faceshields
- Moisture wicking apparel
- Cooling neck wraps
- Jackets lined with reusable ice packs
- Vests that use an external source of compressed air to cool the user
Workers and supervisors alike should be provided with training on heat-related hazards. Among other things, this training should cover:
- Exposure risks and the harmful effects of excessive heat
- Preventative measures
- Risk factors that can aggravate heat stress
- How to recognize the signs of a heat-related illness
- First aid for heat-related illnesses
(Learn about 7 Lesser Known Ways to Protect Against Heat Stress)
Make Heat-Related Illnesses a Thing of the Past
Heat-related illnesses can be prevented, but only through a concerted effort from employers and workers. By recognizing heat hazards, implementing adequate control measures, and providing plenty of shade and fluids, we can make strides toward a safer working environment.
With its National Emphasis Program, OSHA has given us a roadmap for handling heat hazards. It's a helpful step, but the real work will take place on the ground, with active participation from every affected workplace.
This year, make a commitment to eliminating heat-related illnesses from your workplace. Help everyone stay cool and stay safe.