OSHA Developing Heat Standard for Construction Sites

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A recent report found that construction workers are exposed to high temperatures and heat on the job that has caused illnesses and even deaths that are under-reported.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will develop “a federal standard” to prevent health issues stemming from extreme heat on construction sites, according to a report by Construction Dive. In a press release, the agency announced it would initiate a rulemaking process that will include a comment period from various stakeholders as it works to establish new standards.

“While heat illness is largely preventable, and commonly under-reported,” OSHA stated, “thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure. Despite widespread under-reporting, 43 workers died from heat illness in 2019, and at least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illnesses.” It’s also launching an enforcement initiative targeting heat hazards on construction sites, prioritizing “heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80.”

The action will encourage contractors to establish “proactive interventions” by providing water and shade, as well as rest periods for workers. It will also prioritize the inspection of heat-related complaints on construction sites and direct compliance officers to intervene or launch inspections when they “observe employees performing strenuous work in hot conditions.”

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will begin the process of creating rules and regulations for contractors to follow that will have them provide more water for their workers and allow more breaks in high heat temperatures to prevent illness and death.

As OSHA notes, heat-related deaths on job sites may be under-reported, because in many cases the victim’s cause of death is listed “as a heart attack, when the actual cause was exposure to a heat-related hazard.” Heat-related deaths often result from “exertional heat stroke,” which can occur when people perform physical activity in extremely hot environments. The same circumstances can result in heat-related illnesses.

In a statement about the development of a federal standard for heat hazards in indoor and outdoor job sites, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said: “Throughout the nation, millions of workers face serious hazards from high temperatures both outdoors and indoors. Amid changing climate, the growing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events is increasing the dangers workers face, especially for workers of color who disproportionately work in essential jobs in tough conditions.”

In a separate statement, Jim Frederick, Acting Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, said: “While agricultural and construction workers often come to mind first when thinking about workers most exposed to heat hazards, without proper safety actions, sun protection and climate-control, intense heat can be harmful to a wide variety of workers indoors or outdoors and during any season.”

More information on OSHA’s construction site heat hazard initiatives is available via Construction Dive and OSHA.

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