What Every Mover should Know About Heat-Related Illness

May 09, 2022

By Casey Myers

Champion Risk & Insurance Services welcomes the opportunity to provide you with important information about insurance coverage and issues that can help you mitigate risk for your business. In this article, we’re discussing heat-related illness and steps you, your employees and contractors can take to prevent it.

As peak season gets underway, it’s important to remember that warmer temperatures increase the likelihood of heat-related illnesses. Temporary, younger and/or male workers are at greater risk for developing heat strain than other demographic groups. New workers, especially those within two weeks of hire, account for 9% of heat-related illness cases.

Dangers of Working in the Heat

Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat or humid conditions. There are a range of heat illnesses and they can affect anyone, regardless of age or physical condition.

This year, OSHA announced a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) to protect workers from indoor and outdoor heat illness and injuries.

The NEP is a mechanism for OSHA to proactively inspect high-risk workplaces for heat-related hazards before anyone suffers from a preventable heat-related illness, injury or fatality. It took effect on Apr. 8 and will remain in place for three years unless OSHA cancels it or extends it.

Is a National Emphasis Program a Federal Requirement?

No, an NEP is a temporary program to help OSHA focus its time and resources, but it isn’t a federal requirement or standard. OSHA has been working towards a heat-related federal standard and will more than likely set one soon.

What Prompted OSHA’s NEP?

Each year, temperatures rise, and the danger of extreme heat increases with it. Employees suffer from more than 3,500 heat-related injuries and illnesses per year. There are disparities among low-wage workers and workers of color who are disproportionately impacted by heat-related injury and illness.

Employer Responsibility to Protect Workers

Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program.

  • Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
  • Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
  • Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness.

NEP Details

OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention program establishes heat days as those when the heat index is expected to be 80°F or higher.

On those days, OSHA will perform programmed inspections in targeted high-risk industries. They will also continue inspecting any heat-related fatalities, complaints, or referrals, regardless of industry.

Pre-planned inspections will take place on any day that the National Weather Service announces a heat warning or advisory for a specific location. OSHA field staff will proactively reach out and provide compliance assistance to help keep employees safe during qualifying hot days.

Heat-Related Illness Standards in Specific States

Many states run their own OSHA-approved State Plans. Some have adopted standards that cover hazards not addressed by OSHA. California, Minnesota and Washington have additional standards for heat exposure:

OSHA Resources

OSHA's Occupational Exposure to Heat page explains what employers can do to keep workers safe and what they need to know - including factors for heat illness, adapting to working in indoor and outdoor heat, protecting themselves, recognizing symptoms and first aid training. The page also includes resources for specific industries and OSHA workplace standards. Find heat illness educational and training materials on their publications page.

Next Steps for Employers

Peak season is here, but there’s still time to assess your current heat illness and prevention plans. Even if you’re not in a state that has a heat illness and injury requirement, take steps to ensure compliance with OSHA and the NEP.

  • Review your heat illness prevention program.
  • Identify a person or team responsible for checking the heat index. They should also monitor conditions, manage response, implement controls and provide supplies and equipment to workers.
  • Monitor workers’ health during high heat index days.
  • Train your employees on heat illness prevention, risk factors and symptoms.
  • Provide additional breaks, shade, water and personal protective equipment.