As spring weather begins in many parts of the U.S., higher temperatures are just around the corner. Now is a good time for employers to review their response to situations involving employee exposure to high temperatures. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues working on a heat illness prevention safety standard that presumably will include specific assessment and abatement requirements tied to certain weather conditions.
Last summer, OSHA cited employers for failure to prevent heat-related illnesses under the General Duty Clause. Last month, the OSH Review Commission acknowledged OSHA’s ability to cite employers for exposing employees to excessive heat, but largely vacated citations issued to the U.S. Postal Service because OSHA could not demonstrate feasible, effective abatement measures.
In its heat stress guidance published last year, OSHA recommends that employers prepare written heat illness prevention plans. The plans include identification of heat hazards in the workplace and signs of employee distress related to heat exposure. The plans then provide for rest, water, and shade breaks, along with acclimatization and monitoring of employees required to work in hot environments.
In addition to reducing the likelihood of heat-related illnesses, the written plans demonstrate to OSHA that the employer has exercised a reasonable standard of care under the General Duty Clause. The final heat stress safety standard is likely to include mandatory written plans, and by acting now, employers can get a head start on their eventual compliance obligations.