Heat Sickness and What OSHA’s National Emphasis Program Means for Employers | JS detained

[authors: Tom Sumner and Warren Guillot Jr.]


The dangers associated with heat-related illnesses are well understood. However, deaths and serious illnesses keep happening[JC1] and may increase over time, due to increased frequency of temperature extremes.

To underscore its concern and take action, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is implementing a heat hazard enforcement initiative, developing a national focus on heat inspections and initiates a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard. Additionally, the agency is forming a National Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Committee, a Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Task Force, to better understand challenges and to identify and share best practices to protect workers.

What does this mean for employers?

OSHA Regional Directors across the country will institute the following:

  • Prioritize inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals, and employer-reported illnesses and initiate an on-site investigation when possible.
  • Ask compliance safety and health officers, when traveling to worksites, to carry out an intervention (providing the agency’s poster/wallet card, which discusses the importance of easy access to cool water, cooling areas and acclimatization) or to open inspection when observing employees performing heavy work in hot conditions.
  • Expand the scope of other inspections to address heat-related hazards when jobsite conditions or other evidence indicates that these hazards may be present.

This means OSHA will increase general duty clause enforcement activities until a federal heat standard is enacted, focusing in particular on high-risk industries like construction and d other strenuous activities indoors and outdoors.

Employers should evaluate their current heat illness prevention programs and place more emphasis on training and recognition of potential hazards. the program [RL2] should clearly state when supervisors should implement enhanced “high heat” procedures that include:

  • Observe individual employees for vigilance.
  • A mandatory “buddy system” within work teams.
  • Effective communication with lone workers.
  • Cool rest periods every two hours.
  • Perform the most arduous tasks during the cooler hours of the shift.

Key Elements of an Effective Heat Illness Prevention Program

The following elements are essential to effectively protect employees from the harmful effects of high heat exposure and should be incorporated into an employer’s heat illness prevention program:

  1. Communication of risk factors.
  2. Information detailing the signs, symptoms, prevention and treatment of heat-related illnesses.
  3. Engineering and administrative control methods.
  4. Inclusion of effective heat illness prevention procedures:
    • Emergency response procedures.
    • Acclimatization.
    • High temperature procedures.
    • Weather monitoring procedures.
  5. Training for all relevant employees and supervisors which should include the following topics:
  • Environmental and personal risk factors associated with heat-related illnesses.
  • Acclimatization protocol (Heat Stress and Strain Guide ACGIH – 2017)
  • The importance of regular hydration throughout the working day.
  • The effects of personal protective clothing such as Tyvek coveralls.
  • Work/rest regime.
  • Shaded break areas such as awnings with tables, chairs and fans.
  • Skin and head covers for direct sun exposure.
  • Importance for employees to report heat-related symptoms.
  • The effects of alcohol and other lifestyle factors.
  • Self-monitoring techniques such as pulse monitoring (Heat Stress and Strain Guide ACGIH – 2017).
  • Emergency Response – taking immediate action when a worker appears disoriented or confused.


Consider the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Index app as a tool to help supervisors recognize when additional preventive precautions should be implemented. This can be downloaded for Apple and Android users. The National Weather Service Heat Index Chart (Figure 1) may also be helpful. as a visual aid[JC3] .

Figure 1 – National Weather Service Heat Index Chart.

Figure 2 – OSHA Tips for Avoiding High Heat-Related Illnesses (poster).

Figure 3 – OSHA Tips for Avoiding High Heat-Related Illnesses (poster in Spanish).

Figure 4 – Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke (via Weather.gov).


It is important for employers to understand that heat-related illnesses are currently vastly under-reported and that often people with reported heat-related illnesses were unaware of the signs and symptoms of heat stress. the heat.

Take advantage of this National Emphasis Program and use the appropriate resources to review and update or improve your company or organization’s existing heat prevention plan, as appropriate.

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