What is OSHA’s top post-COVID enforcement priority?  According to Assistant Secretary of Labor and the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), Doug Parker, it’s heat-related illnesses.  On April 8, 2022, OSHA released its National Emphasis Program (“NEP”) for heat related issues in the workplace.

Before becoming head of federal OSHA enforcement, Mr. Parker was head of Cal/OSHA, one of the few states in the country to have a state plan, including its own dedicated heat illness prevention standard.  The NEP bring this issue to the forefront of federal OSHA’s inspection and enforcement priorities, as the agency works in the meantime to create a proposed rule (i.e. a dedicated, permanent standard).  For now, OSHA will use the NEP and its General Duty clause to target and begin conducting heat-related workplace inspections at “High-Hazard” heat illness employers in the near future.

How should employers prepare? First, understand the work-related hazard OSHA is trying to prevent and mitigate: heat-related illnesses and stress that result when the human body can no longer regulate its internal temperature.  Such illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and other illnesses – many of which may result in death—with symptoms that include high body temperature, confusion, dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting.

Second, employers should determine if they are covered by the NEP, which targets “High-Hazard” industries with both indoor and outdoor operations based on NAICS codes and includes industries from manufacturing, construction and transportation to restaurants, skilled nursing facilities and employment services industries.  See NEP, Appendix A.

Third, employers should evaluate the potential for outdoor and indoor heat illness hazards and either develop a program to address those heat hazards or review existing policies and training programs that address heat exposure.  At a minimum, employers should start with and build off of the well-worn mantra: “Water. Rest. Shade.”

Although many employers with Southern locations deal with warmer temperatures year-round, summer is quickly approaching for the entire country and employers in “High-Hazard” industries should anticipate unannounced inspections from OSHA on “any day that the National Weather Service has announced a heat warning or advisory for the local area.”

If you have any questions about the NEP, developing and revising heat illness prevention programs, or how to prepare for an OSHA inspection, please contact Frantz Ward OSHA attorneys Christina Niro or Jon Scandling.