HR Management & Compliance

With OSHA Enforcement Heating up, Taking Breaks Now Even Better Idea

On September 1, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a memorandum establishing a new enforcement initiative to prevent and protect employees from heat-related severe illnesses and deaths while working in hazardous hot indoor or outdoor environments. 

OSHA to Crack Down on Heat-Related Hazards

The initiative directs OSHA area offices, on days when the temperature exceeds 80°F, to increase enforcement efforts to identify potential heat-related hazards present in working conditions before the occurrence of an illness or death. The scope of the initiative applies to indoor and outdoor worksites where potential heat-related hazards exist. The initiative is expected to affect several industries, including manufacturing, construction, oil and gas operations, agriculture, mining, and other industries where employees are exposed to heat above 80°F and the industry has a history of heat-related illness.

OSHA’s memo identifies steps employers can take to mitigate the chances of heat-related illnesses or death. These steps include:

  • Granting employees adequate breaks;
  • Supplying enough easily accessible cold water for the job duration; and
  • Providing, if applicable, a shaded area away from direct sunlight.

Further, the memorandum directs compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) to review employers’ plans to address heat exposure.

OSHA provides some guidance for employers on creating a plan and identifying particular elements that a heat exposure plan should include here. The agency directs CSHOs to determine if an employer’s plan for heat exposure includes acclimatization procedures (especially for new and returning workers), work-rest schedules, access to shade and water (with electrolytes when needed), and any training records associated with implementing a heat illness prevention program. It also recommends employers pay close attention to their employees, especially if they’re not acclimated to the work or the heat, by routinely checking in on them and training them on symptoms and signs of heat-related illness.

In addition to reviewing employer plans to address heat exposure, among other directions, the memorandum directs CSHOs to:

  • Review OSHA 300 Logs for any entries indicating heat-related illness(es);
  • Review injury and illness reports and obtain any records of emergency room visits and/or ambulance transport, even if hospitalizations did not occur;
  • Interview with workers for reports of headache, dizziness, fainting, dehydration, or other symptoms that may indicate heat-related illnesses; and
  • Generally observe the working conditions.

If a CSHO determines an employer isn’t in compliance during such inspection, they have the authority to issue a citation to the employer under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).

Bottom Line

Going forward, you should expect a greater chance of OSHA inspections on days the temperature exceeds 80°F. Therefore, you should implement procedures to ensure compliance with the initiative and other OSHA guidelines to avoid a citation or worse.

Bob Clougherty and Garry Keele are attorneys with the Tulsa, Oklahoma, office of McAfee & Taft. They may be contacted at bob.clougherty@mcafeetaft.com and garry.keele@mcafeetaft.com.