Although, we’re in the last half of summer, the heat isn’t letting up anytime soon. With OSHA working on a heat stress standard and increasing enforcement of heat hazard exposure as temperatures hit record highs, the dangers of working in high heat is top of mind.
The U.N. estimates that July was the hottest month — in terms of the average global temperature — in recorded history.
“The reason that setting new temperature records is a big deal is that we are now being challenged to find ways to survive through temperatures hotter than any of us have ever experienced before,” University of Wisconsin–Madison climate scientist Andrea Dutton told The Associated Press. “Soaring temperatures place ever-increasing strains not just on power grids and infrastructure, but on human bodies that are not equipped to survive some of the extreme heat we are already experiencing.”
Plans in place
In late July, OSHA issued a heat hazard alert to remind employers of their obligation to protect workers against heat illness or injury in outdoor and indoor workplaces.
The department also announced that OSHA will intensify its enforcement where workers are exposed to heat hazards, with increased inspections in high-risk industries like construction and agriculture. These actions will fully implement the agency’s National Emphasis Program on heat, announced in April 2022, to focus enforcement efforts in geographic areas and industries with the most vulnerable workers.
Also, in late July, President Biden announced new actions to protect workers from extreme heat and new investments to protect communities, as historically high temperatures break records and expose millions of people to the serious dangers of heat in the workplace.
“Historically high temperatures impact everyone and put our nation’s workers at high risk,” said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. “A workplace heat standard has long been a top priority for the Department of Labor, but rulemaking takes time and working people need help now.”
Heat illness can be deadly
Since 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 436 people have died due to workplace heat exposure, with an annual average of 38 deaths between 2011 to 2019. In addition, an average of 2,700 cases involving heat illnesses lead to days lost at work, putting an additional economic burden on workers and employers. Statistics show that people who work in conditions without adequate climate-control face higher risks of hazardous heat exposure and that these situations disproportionately expose people of color to hazardous heat.
In October 2021, OSHA began the rulemaking process to consider a heat-specific workplace standard by publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings in the Federal Register.
Our latest poll on ishn.com asks readers how their company chooses to mitigate heat stress with three options. Please take a second to participate here: https://www.ishn.com/polls/22-heat-stress-prevention. The top answer so far, with 71 percent of the votes, is “adequate hydration and scheduled water breaks.”