Below is an excerpt of an article co-authored with Environmental, Energy + Telecommunications Group lawyer Jon Schaefer, published by EHS Today on August 31, 2023.
Across the country, manufacturers are learning they need to ensure employees working both inside and out are adequately protected from heat-related risks. Earlier in the summer, OSHA issued the first-ever Hazard Alert for heat to remind employers of their obligation to protect workers against heat illness or injury in outdoor and indoor workplaces. The alert accompanied an announcement that OSHA would be ramping up enforcement of heat-safety violations and increasing inspections in high-risk industries.
While in the past focus on heat-safety violations may have been limited to the construction and agriculture industries, OSHA is now equally focused on heat-safety violations found in indoor work environments, such as manufacturing facilities. This expanded focus includes the manufacturing and warehouse industries. OSHA emphasized this focus in April 2022 when it established a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Outdoor and Indoor Heat Hazards that, in part, focused on the manufacturing and warehouse industries. OSHA has also been conducting an annual heat awareness campaign for the last decade and in 2022, began its heat enforcement program.
Despite this enhanced focus on inspections and enforcement, OSHA has yet to put in place a national standard for workplace heat-safety rules. After being pressured to do so for more than a decade, OSHA started working on heat-safety standards in 2021. On August 30, 2023, OSHA released a “Regulatory Framework” meant to outline potential options for the elements of a future OSHA standard. This framework shows that OSHA is focused on a programmatic standard where employers are required to create a plan to evaluate and control heat hazards in their workplaces, but also permit some customization of those plans based on various factors. In the short term, this framework provides employers with an indication of the type of items OSHA may be looking for during a heat illness or injury inspection. However, this framework is far from a final OSHA standard and any final heat-safety standard will almost surely be challenged in the courts, potentially further extending implementation.
What Can Employers Do Now?