Last week, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced enhanced and expanded efforts to address heat-related illnesses in the workplace. The new initiative was prompted by excessive heat this summer in certain parts of the U.S. and concerns over the effects of such heat on employees who work outdoors or in workplaces that are not temperature controlled. OSHA noted 43 workplace deaths and 2,410 reported illnesses due to heat in the U.S. in 2019.
The initiative consists of two steps. First, OSHA will initiate a national emphasis program prioritizing workplace inspections for situations involving heat-related illnesses. Second, OSHA previously issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for a new safety standard that will address topics such as heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, exposure monitoring, and strategies to protect workers. Even in the absence of a specific safety standard, employers that expose workers to an unreasonable risk of illness or death due to heat may currently be cited by OSHA under the “General Duty Clause.”