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OSHA Announces First-Ever National Emphasis Program for Heat Hazards

Emily Hartman /

On April 12, 2022, Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Secretary Marty Walsh 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.

The NEP took effect on April 8, 2022 and will remain in place for three years from the effective date, unless OSHA cancels it or extends it.

Is a National Emphasis Program A Federal Requirement?

No, a National Emphasis Program is a temporary program to help OSHA focus its time and resources but isn’t a federal requirement or standard.

BUT, we know that OSHA has been working towards a heat-related federal standard when it published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings in the Federal Register on October 27, 2021. With that kind of movement, it’s a safe bet to say that OSHA will soon set a federal standard for employers.

Who is Impacted?

The Program targets 70 different high-risk industries, like general industry, manufacturing, and construction, based on:

  • The incidence rate of heat-related illnesses and the rate of days away from work
  • The number of fatalities or hospitalizations reported to OSHA
  • The highest number of heat-related general duty clause violations and Hazard Alert Letters during five years from 2017 to 2021, or the highest number of OSHA heat inspections since 2017

The automotive industry (dealerships, collision centers, etc.) was not named in the list of primary industries but has been included in a secondary list of industries that won’t likely be selected for a random inspection but could be targeted based on whistleblowers, or employee complaints, about high heat hazards. Typically, dealerships are categorized with an industry code like Car Dealership (e.g., NAICS 4411), which doesn’t typically encounter heat-related hazards. Still, there may be instances where a dealership that handles repair and maintenance might also be categorized by OSHA with NAICS code 8111, Automotive Repair and Maintenance, which is more likely to experience heat-related hazards.

Details of the National Emphasis Program for Heat Hazards

For OSHA, it’s all about Water. Rest. Shade. The program establishes heat days as those days when the heat index is expected to be 80°F or higher. Some businesses and people may find this surprising; often, heat-related illnesses and injuries are assumed to occur during the first high-heat waves of the year, when the body has not acclimated, and businesses aren’t all prepared to respond with shade, water, breaks, etc.

On those days, OSHA will:

  • Perform programmed inspections in targeted high-risk industries
  • Continue inspecting any heat-related fatalities, complaints, or referrals, regardless of whether the organization’s industry is targeted on the high-risk industry list

Pre-planned inspections will take place on any day that the National Weather Service announces a heat warning or advisory in the local area. Additionally, knowing that many employers want to keep their employees safe by having heat illness prevention plans, OSHA field staff will proactively reach out to and provide compliance assistance to help keep employees safe during those qualifying hot days.

What Prompted OSHA’s NEP?

Each year, temperatures rise, and the danger of extreme heat increases with it. Not a fun fact: 18 of the last 19 summers were the hottest on record. Employees suffer from more than 3,500 heat-related injuries and illnesses per year. Additionally, there are disparities among low-wage workers and workers of color who are disproportionately impacted by heat-related injury and illness.

Next Steps for Employers

As the hot summer months are nearly around the corner, assess your current heat illness and prevention plans. If you’re not already located in a state that has a heat illness and injury requirement, be sure to read through the details of OSHA’s requirements.

Everyone who is potentially impacted by the NEP should take necessary steps to ensure compliance, including:

  • Review your heat illness prevention program and ensure it’s compliant with OSHA’s NEP
  • Identifying someone (or people) to be responsible for checking the heat index. This person or team is responsible for monitoring conditions, managing response, implementing controls, and making supplies and equipment available to workers.
  • Monitor workers’ health during high heat index days.
  • Train your employees on heat illness prevention, risk factors, and symptoms to watch out for.
  • Provide additional breaks, shade, water, and personal protective equipment.

Check out KPA’s Heat Illness Checklist to help plan for and prevent heat-related events at your workplace.

Ask KPA what’s right for your organization.

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