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OSHA Issues ANPRM Regarding “Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) to obtain information regarding the extent and nature of hazardous heat in the indoor and outdoor workplaces and the nature and effectiveness of interventions and controls used to prevent heat-related injury and illness. This ANPRM (which contains 114 numbered questions, many with multiple parts) will ultimately be used to inform a rulemaking to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hazardous heat. OSHA is therefore seeking information on issues that the agency can consider in developing the standard, including the scope of the standard and the types of controls that might be required.

For purposes of this ANPRM, OSHA uses several terms related to excessive heat exposure. “Heat stress” means the load of heat that a person experiences due to sources of heat or heat retention, or the presence of heat in a work setting. “Heat strain” means the physiological response to heat exposure. “Heat-related illness” means adverse clinical health outcomes that occur due to exposure to hazardous heat. “Heat-related injury” means an injury linked to heat exposure that is not considered one of the typical symptoms of heat-related illness, such as a fall or cut.

OSHA notes that heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related phenomena, observing that excessive heat exacerbates existing health problems like asthma, kidney failure, and heart disease, and can cause heat stroke and even death if not treated properly and promptly. OSHA also states that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme heat events, as well as increasing daily average daytime and nighttime temperatures, which is of particular concern in construction and other outdoor industry sectors. As a result, workers in both outdoor and indoor work settings without adequate climate-controlled environments are at risk of hazardous heat exposure. Since 2018, 789 heat-related hospitalizations and 54 heat-related fatalities across nearly 275 unique industries have been documented by OSHA through workplace inspections and violations. During this time, for example, commercial building and bridge construction were among the industries in which hospitalizations and fatalities occurred most frequently. In addition, analysis of OSHA enforcement investigations indicates that the construction industry features 13 times the risk of heat-related deaths, with 1.13 deaths per 1 million workers, compared to the average annual heat-related workplace fatality rate in all other industries of 0.09 deaths per 1 million workers.

The ANPRM also discusses alternative work arrangements, including those for “gig” workers and other independent contractors, noting that these arrangements have been found in some studies to be associated with increased health and safety risks to workers. OSHA states that workers in these arrangements may be assigned more hazardous work tasks, be less aware of their ability to report unsafe work conditions, be less acclimatized to the heat conditions of the work environment, or not receive adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) or training for the job duties they are conducting. OSHA adds that these arrangements are present in a variety of industries where workers face hazardous heat exposure, such as construction, in part due to outdoor work settings and seasonality of work. Moreover, OSHA observes that “multi-employer” contexts may impact the health and safety of workers due to the need for and challenges associated with close coordination across employers on health and safety issues such as training and monitoring safe work practices. OSHA asserts that any rulemaking will “need to consider the challenges for employers and employees related to protecting those in non-traditional, variable, and multi-employer work arrangements.”

Generally, among the dozens of issues on which the ANPRM requests feedback that may interest SWACCA members are questions related to: (1) The nature and magnitude of occupational illness, injuries, and fatalities occurring due to hazardous heat, including the sources of data that are important to consider when evaluating occupational heat-related illnesses, injuries, and fatalities; (2) Underreporting of occupational illness, injuries, and fatalities occurring due to hazardous heat, including disincentives for employers and employees to report injuries and illnesses in construction and other industries with a higher number of undocumented, migrant, low-wage, or other vulnerable workers; (3) How unique and non-traditional work arrangements (e.g., “gig,” contingent, and multi-employer arrangements) in construction and other industries contribute to workers’ risk of heat-related injuries and illnesses, as well as the best practices and challenges for reducing those risks in these work settings; (4) How business size may influence the practices and interventions implemented to prevent heat-related injuries and illnesses and the challenges experienced by businesses of varying sizes when implementing these prevention strategies; and (5) Data sources and considerations to further assess current employer efforts to prevent heat-related illness and their efficacy in preventing heat-related illnesses, including how employer-driven heat injury and illness prevention programs are being evaluated.

Comments on this ANPRM are due by December 27, 2021.

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