Taking breaks are now an even better idea

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On September 1, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a memorandum establishing a new enforcement initiative to prevent and protect employees from heat-related severe illnesses and deaths while working in hazardous hot indoor or outdoor environments.  The memorandum is available here.  

OSHA to crack down on heat-related hazards

The initiative directs OSHA Area Offices, on days when the temperature exceeds 80°F, to increase enforcement efforts to identify potential heat-related hazards present in working conditions before the occurrence of an illness or death.  The scope of the initiative applies to indoor and outdoor worksites where potential heat-related hazards exist.  The initiative is expected to impact several industries, including manufacturing, construction, oil and gas operations, agriculture, mining, and other industries where employees are exposed to heat above 80°F and the industry has a history of heat-related illness.

OSHA’s memo identifies steps employers can take to mitigate the chances of heat-related illnesses or death.  These steps include: providing employees with adequate breaks; supplying enough easily accessible cold water for the job duration; and providing, if applicable, a shaded area away from direct sunlight.  Further, the memorandum directs Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) to review employers’ plans to address heat exposure.  OSHA provides some guidance for employers on creating a plan and identifying particular elements that a heat exposure plan should include here. OSHA directs CSHOs to determine if an employer’s plan for heat exposure includes acclimatization procedures (especially for new and returning workers), work-rest schedules, access to shade and water (with electrolytes when needed), and any training records associated with implementing a heat illness prevention program. Further, OSHA recommends Employers pay close attention to their employees, especially if they’re not acclimated to the work or the heat, by routinely checking in on them and training them on symptoms and signs of heat-related illness.

 In addition to reviewing employer plans to address heat exposure, among other directions, the memorandum directs CSHOs to:  

  • Review of OSHA 300 Logs[1] for any entries indicating heat-related illness(es).
  • Review of injury and illness reports and obtain any records of emergency room visits and/or ambulance transport, even if hospitalizations did not occur.
  • Interviews with workers for reports of headache, dizziness, fainting, dehydration, or other symptoms that may indicate heat-related illnesses.
  • Generally observe the working conditions. If a CSHO determines that an employer is not in compliance during such inspection, they have the authority to issue a citation to the employer under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Going forward, employers should expect a greater chance of OSHA inspections on days the temperature exceeds 80°F. Therefore, employers should implement procedures that ensure compliance with this initiative and other OSHA guidelines to avoid a citation or worse.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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