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OSHA launches thermal safety initiative in the midst of climate change, pandemic



The Biden administration cited climate change as a driving force behind its planned war on heat-related diseases and deaths among workers, but other factors are also likely to have contributed.

Concerns about restrictions on federal security officials during the Trump administration and the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic were likely also a driving force for the move, experts say.

On September 21, the Biden Administration announced an enforcement initiative from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on heat-related hazards, and developed a national emphasis program on heat inspections and initiated a regulatory process to develop and implement new workplace workplace standards. outdoor and indoor workplaces.

In 201

9, 43 heat-related deaths and 2,410 serious heat-related injuries and illnesses were reported to OSHA, according to the DOL, but officials say underreporting of incidents is widespread. In its announcement, the Biden administration noted "increasing heat emitted by climate change" as a threatening threat and a reason for the initiative.

However, employment and employment lawyers believe that there are other significant factors that drive heat hazards and nurture federal efforts. to deal with heat-related injuries and diseases.

John Ho, Labor and Employment Attorney and Chairman of Cozen O & # 39; Connor's OSHA practice in New York, said that part of the reason for the sharp focus on heat stress is that OSHA has been limited in referring to violations and apply safer workplace standards.

In 2019, the Occupational Safety Health Review Commission issued a decision that removed a general burden of heat stress, making it more difficult for OSHA to identify the hazard under the General Customs Clause, which is the agency's signature rule requiring employers to provide safe workplaces or fine.

"The general tariff clause had become a 'catch-all' standard," Mr. H o sa. In the absence of outlined rules on heat hazards, “employers have become a little confused about what their obligations are. That language has also helped to draw attention to heat stress.

The latest Heat Illness Guide contains guidelines for implementing employer heat illness prevention programs, which require companies to take action when the heat index reaches 80 degrees.

"This heat index is now a critical issue for employers and will require the employer to closely monitor the heat index both outside and inside the workplace and then activate its program to prevent employees from suffering from a heat-related illness," says Mark Lies, partner at the Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Chicago.

The continued impact of COVID-19 and the pandemic on the labor market and business also plays a role, Ho said.

“The CDC has identified heat stress issues specifically related to COVID. The acclimatization process for employees who return to an environment with heat exacerbates the risk of heat stress, says Ho.

"You have to acclimatize to heat just like you have to acclimatize to something else," says Adam Richard Ung, Chicago-based partner at Seyfarth Shaw. “Getting back to work is one of the highest risk points for heat. Facial coatings can also aggravate the recipe, which may require more breaks or more water.

In addition, the health effects of COVID-19 will continue to be a factor exacerbating the heat risks for workers.

"Individuals affected by the effects of COVID or long COVID may have some reduced ability to take oxygen from the air or handle heat," said Young, exacerbating the health risks to workers and increasing the workload to reduce heat hazards. [19659002] As part of the OSHA initiative, the Agency will also set up a National Advisory Committee, which it says will focus on addressing these factors and outlining best practices tailored to the needs of individual industries – the most risky of which will be more of their time and resources, including more inspections.

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