Things are Heating Up!

With the summer boating season approaching quickly, marina owners and operators will want to pay close attention to a proposed new safety standard that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will likely publish. Last fall, OSHA announced an Advanced Notice of a Proposed Rulemaking related to heat injury and illness prevention. The public comment period closed several weeks ago, and it is likely the new standard will be published before the hot summer days arrive.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), since 2011, heat-related illness on the job has led to the deaths of 345 workers. During this same time, the BLS data suggests as many as 31,000 workers suffered heat-related illness that required medical treatment beyond first aid or missed at least one day of work. According to a U.S. Department of Labor press release, heat is the leading cause among all weather-related workplace hazards. “While heat illness is largely preventable and commonly underreported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure, and in some cases, heat exposure can be fatal,” said Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

Without a formal heat injury and illness prevention standard, OSHA has largely relied on the ‘General Duty Clause’ when citing employers for heat related injuries. The General Duty Clause (GDC) requires employers to provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” However, the courts have ruled against OSHA and GDC citations in several cases, stating heat hazards and worker protections were not clearly established by the agency.

Steps Employers Should Take

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When published, the heat injury and illness prevention standard will formalize the workplace hazards associated with heat and define worker protections the employer must provide. The new standard will cover both indoor and outdoor activities. While many businesses may have an informal program for heat related injury and illness prevention, the new standard will likely require employers to formalize those programs. A written policy, job hazard analysis (JHA), employee training, procedures to mitigate the effects of heat related illness, and recordkeeping will be critical steps to comply with the new standard.

Based on the BLS data presented, once the new standard becomes effective, it seems likely enforcement action will quickly follow. OSHA will likely take the following approach:

Place a high priority and open inspections of heat-related complaints
Instruct Compliance Safety & Health Officers (CHSO- field investigator) to conduct interventions or open investigations when they observe employees performing strenuous activities in hot conditions
Expand the scope of inspections to include heat related hazards when such hazards are present

Employers should work toward formalizing the written policy and employee training now. Procedures designed to reduce workers exposure should be developed and implemented. Persons tasked with maintaining the OSHA 300 logs (employers with 11 or more employees) should review the recordkeeping requirements to ensure accurate records are maintained. Lastly, employers with workers exposed to heat are more likely to see OSHA arrive for an inspection.

Keep Informed

Speaking of inspections, Fisher Phillips Safety Solutions has launched an interactive map detailing where OSHA inspections are occurring. As of March 19, OSHA has initiated just over 12,400 inspections nationwide since the start of the year. Many of the most active states have a large recreational marine sector. States such as California, Texas, Michigan, and Florida have been very active. The map allows the user to break down data by location and industry to help employers understand activity in their area.

The map can be found here.