The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to deal with the dangers of heat illness in employment settings. As Steven Sack notes in his book, Fired!, “The 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace,” and protecting employees from these sorts of hazards is part of their mandate. The program targets 70 high-risk sectors where employees frequently suffer the ill effects of exposure to high temperatures. It has also signaled that it will be moving forward with new rulemaking to help prevent heat illness, in order to better protect workers from injury and death.
What is Heat Illness?
“Heat illness” refers to medical conditions caused by exposure to high temperatures for a prolonged period of time. Heat illness typically takes one of three forms, depending on the length, intensity, and severity of overheating: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Some common symptoms of heat illness include:
A heat rash, which appears like a cluster of pimples or small blisters, which can cover large parts of the body
Painful muscle cramps or spasms, usually (but not always) in the stomach, arms or legs
Sudden dizziness, headache, or light-headedness, potentially leading to fainting
Confusion or delirium
Heavy sweating, or lack of sweating despite high heat
Extreme weakness or fatigue
Weak and fast pulse
Fast and shallow breathing
Heightened body temperature, similar to a fever
Seizures or convulsions
What Are the Dangers of Heat Illness?
Even low-level heat illness can lead to exceptional pain from headaches and muscle cramps, resulting from overheating, dehydration, and loss of electrolytes. However, heat illness can get much worse, much faster than some people realize, leading to weakness, fatigue, and even fainting. If not treated promptly, it can lead to heat stroke, which can result in long-term health problems or even death.
What Industries Are Most at Risk?
OSHA identifies 70 industries that are at the highest risk for putting workers in danger of heat illness. These include primarily indoor businesses, such as bakeries or restaurants, where workers may be trapped in hot environments for prolonged periods without an opportunity to rest and cool off, as well as many outdoor businesses like construction and landscaping, where workers must work in the hot summer sun. These industries are especially dangerous during times when heat advisories are in effect, where forcing people to work in extreme heat can lead to avoidable injury and death.
What is OSHA Doing to Address This?
To deal with the problem of heat illness, OSHA is shifting its strategy towards rulemaking to prioritize on-site inspections for worker complaints, rather than relying on rapid response investigations. That way, employers who fail to take steps to protect workers from high heat can be discovered and addressed before someone is seriously hurt or killed by heat illness. OSHA also emphasizes that every employer should have strategies in place to help employees stay cool on hot days, including providing access to water, shade, and air conditioning as appropriate.
Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer with more than 41 years’ experience handling the many aspects of employment law. His new book, “Fired!: Protect Your Rights & FIGHT BACK If You’re Terminated, Laid Off, Downsized, Restructured, Forced to Resign or Quit,” is available in hardback, and contains valuable advice on dealing with employment and labor law issues. To purchase the book, feel free to contact Steven Sack at 917-371-8000 or visit the website at legalstratpub.com. To inquire about a legal matter, please feel free to contact attorney Steven Sack at 917-371-8000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.