On May 3, 2022, OSHA held a stakeholder meeting regarding the development of a nationwide occupational heat standard to prevent heat injuries and illness. The meeting featured opening remarks by Assistant Secretary of Labor, Doug Parker, Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, Jim Frederick.
The OSHA leadership characterized heat hazards as not only a worker protection issue but also a racial equity issue due to the significant number of workers of color who work in jobs impacted by indoor and outdoor heat hazards. Secretary Walsh emphasized that the Administration has identified worker safety in general and prevention and mitigation of heat-related injuries and illnesses in particular as an administration priority.
As a result, not only is OSHA pursuing a federal heat standard as a long-term goal but also has also adopted short-term goals such as the launch of the National Emphasis Program (NEP) that addresses heat illness and injuries and focuses on 70 high risk industries, and a related 2022 heat illness campaign.
Stakeholders’ meeting highlights:
The following is a compilation of highlights from the May 3rd stakeholders’ meeting that attracted significant interest with over 3000 registered attendees, 500 requests to attend as speakers, and the submission of over 1000 comments:
- Many stakeholders advocated in favor of a flexible, performance-based heat standard that considers the dynamic nature of and differences in working environments such as the nature of the industry, geographic zone, physical condition of the workforce, consistency of the workforce, air quality, and heat mitigation methodologies and technologies based on sound science that are simple to implement yet effective.
- Stakeholders encouraged OSHA to adopt a rule that permits employers to continue to use policies, controls and equipment that have been successful in mitigating heat illness and injuries.
- Stakeholders expressed concern over the cost and difficulty associated with requiring certain equipment to determine heat-related hazards, such as wet bulbs. Stakeholders advocated for a rule that incorporates other standards; emphasizes acclimatization and training; and focuses on equipment that is available, reduces hazards, is easy to use, and is preferred by workers.
- OSHA characterized the heat hazard as a “complex urgent hazard.” Though the rulemaking process for a federal occupational heat standard currently is in the preliminary rulemaking stage, a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group, comprised of labor and management representatives across industries, was formed to advise OSHA on its heat injury and illness prevention guidelines and rulemaking activities.
- In October 2021, as we previously discussed in our commentary, OSHA issued an ANPRM that outlined key issues and challenges in occupational heat injury and illness prevention to inform the agency’s perceptions of the rulemaking process, including the scope of the standard, magnitude of injuries, underreporting of injuries, and existing prevention efforts and methods of measuring heat exposure.
- OSHA expressed an intent to accelerate the timeline for adopting a federal heat standard and acknowledged the need for flexible rule that addresses indoor, outdoor, and mobile workforces, and that levels the playing field among employers.
OSHA intends to promulgate a standard specific to heat-related injury and illness prevention that more clearly sets forth employer obligations and measures necessary to effectively protect employees from hazardous heat.
In the meantime, OSHA will be using the NEP as an enforcement mechanism to target indoor and outdoor workplaces in specific high-hazard industries in which employees are subject to heat related hazards. Under the NEP, OSHA is coordinating with the Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, to target vulnerable workforces. The NEP is effective as of April 8, 2022 for a three-year period. The NEP prioritizes on-site response for complaints and for all employer reported hospitalizations related to heat hazards.
If you would like assistance with identifying heat-related workplace hazards or obtaining compliance advice or assistance with improving safety and health programs related to heat-hazards, contact Donna Pryor, Tracey O’Brien or your Husch Blackwell attorney.