OSHA Launches National Emphasis Program Targeting Heat-Related Workplace Illness and Injuries


As the temperatures rise, so will pressure on employers to monitor and address heat-related concerns in the workplace. 

Identifying heat illness and its related risks, including death, as a “top priority” for enforcement, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced the launch of a three-year National Emphasis Program (NEP) targeting heat-related workplace illnesses and injuries.

Under the NEP, OSHA will implement an enforcement regime that targets specific high-hazard industries or workplaces for inspection. Inspections conducted under this program will target “high-hazard” workplaces in over 70 industries,* and will emphasize on-site inspections on days the National Weather Service has announced a heat warning or advisory for the local area. The NEP also requires the expansion of OSHA investigations, which began for other reasons, to go into heat-related matters where: 1) hazardous heat conditions are observed; 2) there is any record in a company’s OSHA 300 logs or 301 Incident Reports of heat related injuries or incidents; or 3) when an employee brings heat-related hazards to the attention of an inspecting officer. Moreover, inspectors conducting inspections on days when the heat index is above 80 degrees—which is certain to occur in North Carolina on multiple occasions over the next several months—will expand their inspection to include a review of the employer’s heat-related hazard prevention programs.

OSHA has a broad and inclusive definition for high-hazard workplaces targeted by the NEP, and notes that risk for heat overexposure results from a combination of many factors, including:

  • Physical activity;
  • Lack of acclimatization to the heat;
  • Air temperature;
  • Humidity;
  • Sunlight;
  • Whether working outside, or inside near high heat sources;
  • Heat sources (e.g., ovens or furnaces, heat-absorbing roofs, and road surfaces);
  • Air movement;
  • Clothing that hampers the body's ability to lose excess heat, including protective equipment; and
  • Individual/personal risk factors, (e.g., pre-existing health conditions and lifestyle, such as medical conditions, lack of physical fitness, obesity, previous episodes of heat-related illness, alcohol consumption, drugs, and use of certain medication)

That said, North Carolina’s Department of Labor has decided not to adopt the NEP. Nevertheless, North Carolina still has enforcement procedures in place regarding heat-related illness inspections and citations, which can be accessed here. Employers should also keep in mind that, even though North Carolina has a state plan and is not generally subject to federal OSHA requirements, contractors and others working on federal property are subject to federal OSHA oversight.

The announcement of the NEP indicates that heat-related illnesses and injuries are an enforcement priority for OSHA. Now is the perfect time of year for employers to evaluate their heat precautions, before things really start heating up in the summer months.

If reading this update leaves you feeling like you need a chill pill, or if an OSHA inspection notice sent shivers down your spine, never fear—there are resources available to identify and mitigate heat risk in the workplace. A member of the Brooks Pierce Labor and Employment Team can help.

*The targeted industries are listed on Appendix A of the NEP, the full text of which can be accessed here.

More information about the risk of working in outdoor and indoor heat environments can be found here, and a fact sheet with more information about the NEP can be found here. Please note that OSHA is undertaking this initiative even though there is no standard specific to heat currently in place (so any citations would be issued under OSHA’s general duty clause).  Consequently, one must look to items like the NEP and the other linked materials for guidance in assessing whether a business’ programs and procedures for dealing with heat hazards are satisfactory.

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