It’s not just the heat—How OSHA enforces occupational exposures to hot environments

Heat stress is a hot topic for OSHA writes Lisa Neuberger on OHS Online.

“We’ve all heard of the agency’s campaign to prevent heat stress in outdoor workers, which emphasizes “Water, Rest, Shade.” But except for a provision in the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard, federal OSHA does not have regulations that specifically address heat stress.

“The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently renewed its recommendation for an occupational exposure to hot environments standard after reviewing a large amount of new scientific information on how working in the heat affects workers. NIOSH says “occupational exposure to heat can result in injuries, disease, death, and reduced productivity.”

“However, even without a specific occupational exposure to heat standard, OSHA can and does cite employers for exposing workers to dangerous conditions. The main standard OSHA uses is the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires employers to provide a workplace that is “free from recognizable hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”

OSHA will cite the standard for both indoor and outdoor heat hazards. “In September 2015, OSHA issued one General Duty Clause citation to a Lake City, Pa., manufacturer for exposing employees to heat stress conditions. The agency said that during their 12-hour work shift, machine operators were exposed to excessive heat while working rotational molding ovens operating at 600° F.

“The courts have interpreted OSHA’s General Duty Clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard. This includes heat-related hazards that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm.”

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