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May 13, 2024
Advisory Committee advances OSHA heat rule

The Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health unanimously recommended that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) move forward with a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for a federal heat exposure standard, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced May 8.

In 2021, the agency issued an advance notice of proposal rulemaking (ANPRM) on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. The ANPRM asked for public input on heat-related issues the agency should consider in developing a standard, including the scope and application of a standard and what types of controls should be required. The agency also asked about the best metric for defining and assessing heat hazards—ambient temperatures, heat index, or wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT).

"Workers at risk of heat illness need a new rule to protect workers from heat hazards. OSHA is working aggressively to develop a new regulation that keeps workers safe from the dangers of heat," Doug Parker, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in an agency statement. "As we move through the required regulatory process for creating these protections, OSHA will use all of its existing tools to hold employers responsible when they fail to protect workers from known hazards such as heat, including our authority to stop employers from exposing workers to conditions which pose an imminent danger."

OSHA currently cites employers—often after heat illness hospitalizations or fatalities—using its authority under the General Duty Clause (§5(a)(1)) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970.

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has repeatedly upheld employer challenges of OSHA citations for heat-related violations. The commissioners once called the agency’s General Duty Clause enforcement a “gotcha” or “catchall” for workplace hazards with no established standards.

OSHA has an ongoing National Emphasis Program (NEP) for indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards that was launched in 2022. In its May 8 announcement, the agency said it would prioritize programmed inspections in agricultural industries that employ temporary, nonimmigrant H-2A workers for seasonal labor.

OSHA recently cited a farm labor contractor after an H-2A worker suffered a heat-related fatality in a Florida sugar cane field. The agency proposed penalties totaling $27,655.

OSHA adding Birmingham regional office

On May 8, OSHA also announced plans to reorganize its regional offices, creating a new regional office in Birmingham, Alabama, and merging Regions 9 and 10 into a San Francisco regional office.

The Birmingham regional office would oversee agency operations in Alabama, as well as in Arkansas, the Florida Panhandle, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The agency pointed to a need to address the region’s growing worker population and the hazardous work done by those employed in chemical processing, construction, food processing, and heavy manufacturing.

OSHA’s Region 4 office would be renamed the Atlanta Region, with jurisdiction over Florida, excluding the Panhandle; Georgia; North Carolina; and South Carolina. The Region 6 office will be renamed the Dallas Region and have jurisdiction over workplace safety in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Merging Regions 9 and 10 into a new San Francisco Region will improve operations and reduce operating costs, according to OSHA.

The agency will rename its other regions while retaining their current composition:

  • Region 1 becomes the Boston Region.
  • Region 2 becomes the New York City Region.
  • Region 3 becomes the Philadelphia Region.
  • Region 5 becomes the Chicago Region.
  • Region 7 becomes the Kansas City Region.
  • Region 8 becomes the Denver Region.
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