We all know it’s hot outside. But, if you have workers on your farm, including yourself, then you should know that heat poses a particular health risk to farm workers. Heat-related safety issues are an important issue for farms of all sizes. But, if your farm is one that is large enough to be subject to federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspection, you should know that, on days where there is a heat advisory, even if OSHA inspectors are on your farm for other safety concerns, the agency now has the enforcement authority to also inspect for heat-related hazards. Keep reading to learn more about OSHA’s new authority and how OSHA is trying to help farms protect farm workers from heat-related illness.
OSHA’s New Authority
OSHA may not conduct a safety inspection on a farming operation that currently, and at all times during the previous 12 months, has 10 or fewer employees, unless that farm also has a temporary labor camp. A temporary labor camp means on- or off-farm housing (including permanent or temporary structures) directly related to employing seasonal or temporary farm workers.
But, if OSHA inspectors are lawfully on your farm to conduct safety inspections, they now have the authority to inquire about heat-related preparedness if they are on-site on “heat priority days.” A “heat priority day” is any day when the heat index is 80 degrees or above.
OSHA can, and will, also instigate unannounced heat-related inspections on days that the National Weather Service announces a heat warning or advisory for a certain area.
A clear plan to monitor ambient temperatures at the worksite
Evidence of supervisors monitoring exertion and limiting heat exposure when necessary
Evidence of training employees on recognizing the symptoms of heat-related illness
A response plan if anyone is displaying symptoms
Plans to allow workers to acclimatize to higher temperatures by gradually increasing workloads and allowing more frequent breaks
Ensuring that employees have access to water
Records for any heat-related incidents at the farm, including illnesses, trips to the emergency room, and hospitalizations
Any regulatory inspection on your farm includes a review of records, observation and interviews with farm owners and employees.
OSHA’s Proactive Approach
While the agency has authority to inquire about heat-related preparedness, the agency is taking a proactive approach to help educate farms about heat illness prevention. With its new National Emphasis Program (NEP), the agency will provide consultation services to help farms develop their heat illness prevention plans. The services, which are primarily for small and medium-sized businesses, are free, confidential, and completely separate from enforcement. Similar to on-farm readiness reviews for food safety regulatory compliance, consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards and provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards.
OSHA’s new NEP is coupled with an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The NEP will expire in three years, at which point it is expected that a federal heat standard will have been developed to replace the NEP.
Most people understand that there are common-sense solutions to protect workers from the heat like starting shifts earlier in the day, educating your workers on proper hydration, and providing for adequate rest and shade throughout the work day. OSHA provides information on additional measures employers can take to prevent heat-related illness.
Maryland’s Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) Heat Stress Standards Are Coming
In 2020, Maryland's legislature passed House Bill 722, which requires the Commissioner of Labor and Industry, in consultation with the MOSH Advisory Board, to develop and adopt regulations by October 1, 2022, to protect employees from heat-related stress in the workplace. You can find more information about the legislation as well as MOSH’s services, including its free consultation services, by visiting https://www.dllr.state.md.us/labor/mosh/. You can also find information there about how to submit comments on the new law.