Following the heatwaves that swept parts of North America this summer, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced it is taking steps to better protect workers in environments that are at risk of causing exposure to extreme heat.
The administration is also launching a process to develop a workplace heat standard as well as forming a Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to identify and share best practices to protect workers.
Such workplaces in the cleaning and maintenance industry are likely to include construction workers, restoration technicians, reconstruction contractors, and professional cleaners in non-climate-controlled facilities, as well as workers in the supply chain who could be exposed to instances of extreme heat.
Under the new enforcement initiative, measures taken will include:
- Prioritizing inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals, and employer-reported illnesses and initiate an onsite investigation where possible
- Directing compliance safety and health officers to conduct interventions or open inspections when they observe employees performing strenuous work in hot conditions
- Expanding the scope of other inspections to address heat-related hazards where worksite conditions or other evidence indicates these hazards may be present
Although heat illness is largely preventable, thousands of workers are exposed to extreme heat while working either indoors or outdoor, with some falling seriously ill.
Despite widespread under-reporting, 43 workers died from heat illness in 2019 and at least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illnesses.
This summer, record-breaking heat claimed hundreds of lives in the Pacific Northwest and caused thousands of emergency room visits. At least 12 people in Louisiana died of heat-related illness after Hurricane Ida knocked out power during a heatwave, according to Newsweek.
“Throughout the nation, millions of workers face serious hazards from high temperatures both outdoors and indoors,” said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “Amid changing climate, the growing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events is increasing the dangers workers face, especially for workers of colour who disproportionately work in essential jobs in tough conditions.”