Understanding OSHA's 2022 National Emphasis Program on Heat Hazards
The NEP on heat hazards is a temporary measure aimed at curbing heat-related illnesses and fatalities.
Heat is a familiar hazard in many industries, from construction and logging to steel mills and agricultural operations. Unfortunately, being aware of this hazard and protecting workers from it are two very different things. While heat is a risk factor on countless worksites, it isn't always given the attention it deserves.
Without proper controls in place, hot temperatures can lead to a number of heat-related illnesses. Some of these are mercifully mild, like heat-induced swelling, which is typically harmless. Others, like heat stroke, are far more serious.
Despite its predictability, fatalities due to heat continue to occur on worksites. In order to combat this issue, OSHA introduced its National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat hazards in 2022.
Since this is a relatively new initiative, many employers and safety professionals still have questions about this program and what it means for their workplaces and current safety plans. In this article, we'll go over the basics to get you up to speed on OSHA's NEP.
An Overview of OSHA's National Emphasis Program on Heat Hazards
The NEP is intended as a temporary measure to bring the focus on heat hazards and ensure that employers are doing enough to keep their workers safe from them. It was launched in April 2022 and will remain in effect for three years, until April 2025.
A central aspect of the NEP is a ramping up of heat-related inspections across more than 70 high-risk industries. When the heat index reaches 80°F or higher, OSHA will send inspectors to worksites to assess conditions and whether adequate control measures are in place.
To supplement the NEP, OSHA also offers free on-site consultations for small and medium-sized businesses. These consultations provide advice and technical assistance for employers who want to ensure that they are doing everything they can to keep their employees safe from heat and dehydration.
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Risk Factors and Prevention Measures
The NEP will result in more frequent and targeted heat-related safety inspections. So long as the safety professionals who oversee the worksite understand the risk factors, monitor the site for changing conditions, and implement a robust heat safety plan, they will pass these inspections with flying colors.
While the ambient temperature is the most obvious way to gauge whether the heat poses a threat to worker safety, various other risk factors need to be taken into account, including:
- Physical exertion
- Direct sunlight and access to shaded areas
- Air movement
- Type of clothing or PPE worn by workers
- Individual risk factors (such as pre-existing health conditions, medication, and lifestyle)
Acclimation is another risk factor, and a significant one at that. Workers need to build a tolerance to the heat and are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses during the first weeks of the summer season, or their first days on the job.
Due to this increased risk, workers who have not yet acclimated to the heat should be given shorter shifts, encouraged to take frequent breaks, and be provided with cool drinking water and electrolyte beverages.
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Engineering controls should also be employed where appropriate, such as air conditioning and increased air flow to control indoor heat exposure. Cooling PPE can also help in situations where the ambient temperature cannot be reduced to a comfortable level.
The NEP on heat hazards is a meaningful step in improving workplace safety. Through collective effort, we can significantly reduce the incidence of heat-related illnesses on the job. While it is impossible to eliminate heat hazards on all jobsites, we should at the very least aim to eliminate all fatalities caused by them.