To protect workers exposed to heat-related hazards, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched the three-year National Emphasis Program (NEP) in April 2022. The NEP will closely monitor incident records from “heat priority days”, encourage implementation of stricter safety procedures and assist with adequate training resources. As an employer, here’s what you need to know:
- While this initiative targets high-risk working environments, all industries must remain compliant by implementing policies and procedures to prevent heat illness and emergencies.
- When the heat index is at or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, OSHA will investigate heat-related incidents and initiate preventative assistance programs for affected industries.
- Inspections follow standard OSHA procedures — an opening conference, walk-throughs, a review of medical records, employee interviews, an assessment of prevention measures and a closing conference.
BCH Tip: Our Compliance Bulletin offers useful insight into OSHA’s Indoor and Outdoor Heat-Related Hazards National Emphasis Program that you can use to prepare your business for the summer months.
Signs and Symptoms
Supervisors are responsible for recognizing the symptoms of heat-related hazards and initiating the company’s pre-determined emergency procedures. Treatment for heat-related conditions or illnesses should always include relocation to a cooler area, hydration, rest and a follow-up medical examination. Especially in high-risk industries, employers should implement updated safety procedures and compliance training for all workers.
- Heat cramps occur during strenuous activities in an environment with mild to hot temperatures. Signs include muscle cramps, spasms, stiffness — especially in the abdomen area — nausea and dizziness. Those affected by heat cramps are generally in a coherent mental state. This type of muscular pain is often associated with dehydration from excessive sweating or loss of salt. Relocate victims of heat cramps to cooler areas with access to water, then follow up with a medical examination.
- Heat exhaustion is a serious condition caused by fluid loss or extreme dehydration. Victims experience decreased blood flow to vital organs resulting in flu-like symptoms such as excessive perspiration, weakness, disorientation, headaches, cold sweats, dizziness and dilated pupils. To recover, victims must move to a cooler location with access to water, fans, wet towels and a way to elevate their legs.
- Heatstroke is a life-threatening illness caused by the body’s inability to regulate its internal cooling system. Symptoms include increased body temperature, incoherent thoughts, excessive dryness of the skin, small pupils and possible seizures. If you observe these symptoms, immediately call 9-1-1 and move the victim to a cool area with access to water. The effects of heatstroke can result in permanent brain damage or death, so it’s important for everyone on your team to recognize these symptoms and react with urgency.
BCH Tip: Download our Heat-Related Emergencies Guide for a more detailed overview of signs, causes and treatment.
Beat the Heat
Managers should react to extreme heat by scheduling frequent breaks, requiring loose, light-colored clothing and providing access to water and shade. Regular health screenings can help employers and their team members understand circumstances that put them at higher risk of heat-related emergencies. Factors such as age, weight, medication, diet and pre-existing conditions play a large part in the likelihood of heat illness.
An effective way to ensure worker safety is to communicate heat advisories and check that team leaders are equipped to respond in emergency situations. If your employees are exposed to higher temperatures, it’s even more critical for managers to monitor the expected heat index, adhere to OSHA guidelines and educate employees on the dangers of heat-related illnesses. There are several safety and loss control programs that provide a wide range of services to high-risk industries.
Make sure your team members have access to the tools and resources they need to beat the heat. High-risk industries should consult an expert risk advisor to ensure their procedures meet OSHA’s standard requirements. If you have questions or concerns regarding your safety training programs or compliance, BCH is here to help.