OSHA Launches National Emphasis Program for Heat Hazards
On Tuesday, OSHA announced the first ever National Emphasis Program (NEP) intended to protect U.S. workers from heat illnesses and injuries. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh joined Vice President Kamala Harris at an event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to launch the new program. The NEP went into effect on April 8 and will remain in effect for three years unless canceled or replaced by a superseding directive. Heat illness affects thousands of workers each year, and reducing heat-related illnesses and injuries in the workplace is a top priority for the Department of Labor (DOL), according to OSHA’s news release.
“The three-year average of workplace deaths caused by heat has doubled since the early 1990s,” Walsh said. “These extreme heat hazards aren’t limited to outdoor occupations, the seasons or geography. From farm workers in California to construction workers in Texas and warehouse workers in Pennsylvania, heat illness—exacerbated by our climate’s rising temperatures—presents a growing hazard for millions of workers.” Walsh further described the NEP as a “step towards [DOL’s] goal of a federal heat standard.”
The NEP is intended to improve OSHA’s enforcement and compliance efforts related to heat and will involve the agency proactively initiating inspections in more than 70 high-risk industries when the National Weather Service issues heat warnings or advisories in local areas. On days when the heat index is expected to be 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will also provide outreach and technical assistance to stakeholders in high-risk industries, including unions and employers. Agency inspectors will identify and address heat hazards during inspections of workplaces in all industries, including those not targeted in the NEP. According to OSHA’s enforcement directive document (PDF), “[t]his approach is intended to encourage early interventions by employers to prevent illnesses and deaths among workers during high heat conditions.” These early interventions “include, but are not limited to, implementing water, rest, shade, training, and acclimatization procedures for new or returning employees.”
The enforcement directive adds that OSHA state plans are strongly encouraged, but not required, to adopt the NEP. State plans must submit a notice of intent to federal OSHA within 60 days of April 8—the effective date of the NEP—indicating whether they have similar policies in place, intend to adopt new policies and procedures, or do not intend to adopt the program at all. OSHA’s enforcement directive also provides details on additional topics relevant to the NEP, including the burden of heat illness and injury among U.S. workers, procedures for the program, and the complete list of targeted industries.
For more information, see OSHA’s one-page fact sheet (PDF) on the new NEP.
In October 2021, OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to start the process of creating a federal heat standard. Next month, the agency will host a virtual stakeholder meeting via Zoom to discuss OSHA’s initiatives to protect workers from heat-related hazards.