OSHA Declines to Issue Heat-Related Standard

New York residents are feeling the heat this summer with record-breaking high temperatures. Most people who work outside have to take more frequent breaks, retreat to air conditioned areas for respite periods and drink plenty of fluids. If they are cautious, they will make it through the heat wave just fine. However, these conditions can be deadly for people working in the construction industry, particularly those in roofing or road repair jobs where hot asphalt is used.

The increased risks to the health of outdoor workers is why health and safety advocates are encouraging the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to finally adopt the 40-year-old heat standard recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. OSHA is being asked to adopt what is referred to as an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). OSHA normally enacts an ETS when it finds that workers are exposed to a "grave danger" and action is necessary for worker protection.

"Grave" Versus "Significant" Risk: the OSHA Rulemaking Standard

OSHA defines "grave danger" as involving risk that is higher than "significant risk." The agency claims the current number of deaths from heat exposure is minimal, thus only putting workers at "significant risk," not in "grave danger." This rationalization is their justification for the decades-long failure to enact a heat standard regulation.

Public safety advocates see the risks differently. They say that OSHA must take steps to protect workers from the heat-related dangers that have killed 563 laborers in the past 20 years and injured another 46,000 in that time. The longer that OSHA waits, the longer employees remain at risk from high temperatures.

Education Campaigns in Lieu of Heat Standards

Exposure to extreme heat can cause a variety of health problems including dehydration, cramps, heat stroke, vomiting and exhaustion. Even though heat-related health issues are severe, they can be treated if caught soon enough. OSHA has rolled out a public education campaign aimed at educating both employers and workers about preventative safety measures designed to ward off warm weather health ailments.

Since OSHA has not taken direct action to issue a regulation, it would be prudent for companies to implement their own heat standards. A previous study conducted by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries noted that companies that had extreme heat standards in place actually saw a net economic benefit compared to companies without similar standards.

A person suffering a heat-related injury due to hazardous work conditions may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. He or she might also be able to bring legal action; an experienced personal injury attorney can provide guidance and assist with obtaining any appropriate relief.