As previously reported in EmployNews, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced a three-year national enforcement program to address employee exposure to heat-related health issues. Employers may view this program as applying to agriculture, construction, and other industries with employees who primarily work outdoors. However, OSHA identified 70 industry groups subject to the program, including many with primarily indoor worksites. The scope of this program raises compliance responsibilities for a wide range of companies.
For example, if a company in a covered industry group has a broken air conditioner at its worksite, employees could complain to OSHA if they are required to continue working on a day that exceeds the threshold heat index. If the employer has not taken precautions to avoid heat stress in such situations, the employer could be subject to OSHA citations.
Another compliance scenario involves employees who are hospitalized or die on days exceeding the applicable heat index. If an employee suffers a cardiac arrest at work, and works outside or in an indoor but non-temperature controlled environment, does the employer need to report a potential heat stress injury to OSHA? How are employers supposed to determine whether excessive heat was a contributing factor to the employee’s illness?
Although not mandatory, OSHA recommends that employers subject to the enforcement program adopt a written heat illness prevention plan. The agency has provided tools for employers to evaluate and respond to heat stress risks at their worksites. In the event of an OSHA inspection, this plan can be used to demonstrate that the employer seriously evaluated and responded to potential workplace heat risks.