Comply with NEP: Tips to Keep Workers Cool, Safe and Your Company in Compliance
BY Sandy Lender
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat illness prevention—while functioning as a placeholder while the agency works toward a federal standard for protecting workers from heat-related hazards—has been a long time coming.
The October 2019 issue of AsphaltPro reported a representative from California had introduced legislation (H.R. 3668) July 10 that year directing the organization to issue a national standard to protect workers from heat-related injuries and illnesses. But the standard had been set with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issuing criteria for it in 1972—and updating those criteria in 1986 and 2016. Even the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and multiple states have established their own heat prevention guidelines or standards.
You’ll see that in 2019, sources were reporting that “18 of the 19 hottest years on record had taken place since 2001.” Combine that statistic with an increase in heat-related worker deaths across industries, yet a low incident of heat-related citations per year from OSHA (the average nationwide between 2013 and 2017 was 28), and groups petitioned for action.
Steve Schayer of OSHA shared that the agency hasn’t set a date for publishing the federal standard on heat-illness prevention.
Establish Heat Program
Effective April 8, 2022, the NEP created “a nationwide enforcement mechanism for OSHA to proactively inspect workplaces for heat-related hazards in general industry, maritime, construction, or agriculture operations alleging hazardous exposures to heat (outdoors and/or indoors),” according to an agency fact sheet. “This means that OSHA can now launch heat-related inspections on high-risk worksites before workers suffer preventable injuries, illnesses, or fatalities.”
If that list of industries looks wide of scope, it is. But it does target roadbuilding.
During an online “Stakeholder Meeting on OSHA Initiatives to Protect Workers from Heat-Related Hazards” May 3, OSHA Presenter Jennifer Kim showed the three tables of high heat hazard industries identified in its NEP Appendix A. Table 2—Examples of construction industries, includes “Highway, Street, and Bridge Construction” and “Other Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction.” There are at least 70 industries targeted by OSHA for inspections and citations, and the words “target” and “targeted” have been used multiple times when discussing how OSHA inspectors and the NEP will approach employers or companies.
“The NEP encourages employers to protect workers from heat hazards by providing employee access to water, rest, shade, adequate training, and implementing acclimatization procedures for new or returning employees. It contains both enforcement and outreach/compliance assistance components.”
Even if the “inspection and citation” of enforcement weren’t the actions all industry groups were looking for, the NEP comes with assistance, too, for the purpose of immediately improving enforcement and compliance efforts while the Department of Labor continues long-term work to establish a federal heat-illness prevention rule. To offer comment on the rule, visit www.regulations.gov and submit comments to the docket number OSHA-2022-0006 by Aug. 1.
So far, the assistance from OSHA on NEP looks like this:
- Proactive outreach and technical assistance on high heat index days;
- Outreach to unions, employers, and other organizations to advance protections for underserved workers; and
- Assisting employers in developing strategic approaches for addressing heat-related illnesses and injuries via the agency’s free and confidential on-site consultation program for small- and medium-sized businesses (read more about the program in “OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program, Explained”).
During the stakeholder meeting, attendees heard OSHA’s Chrissy Morgan further discuss the assistance OSHA can offer. She listed the compliance assistance specialists (CASs) as a group of workers based in OSHA’s regional and area offices across the United States who are tasked with helping in compliance assistance activities. Employers and employees are welcome to find the CAS near you via osha.gov/complianceassistance/cas.
Morgan also pointed out the labor liaisons, located in OSHA regional offices, as resources to help with creating or energizing safety programs. Find a regional office near you at osha.gov/workers/liaisons. If you’re seeking assistance for safety training, OSHA has a site for that at osha.gov/training.
OSHA’s Jennifer Kim shared during the stakeholder meeting that the NEP has three main goals.
- Reduce or eliminate worker exposure to heat hazards.
- Be proactive instead of reactive, meaning getting to employers before a fatality occurs.
- Establish a numerical goal of inspections for OSHA, which equals a 100% increase above past years.
Kim shared with the audience that inspectors will observe heat sources, workload exertions, the type of clothing and personal protective equipment in use, duration of exposure to the heat hazard, and so on. The inspectors will look at the company’s heat program and the weather conditions.
The agency has released a fact sheet on which it states, “OSHA also recognizes that many businesses want to do the right thing by developing heat illness prevention plans to keep their employees safe. On heat priority days, OSHA field staff will engage in proactive outreach and technical/compliance assistance to help keep workers safe on the job.”
Build a Cool Place
Among the many asphalt industry businesses already developing heat illness prevention plans is Austin Bridge & Road, headquartered in Irving, Texas. The company designed a “cooling trailer” to have on site for crews working during the hot paving seasons. When it was first described, my thoughts went to the “outdoor air conditioning” of theme parks and nature centers. Follow-up with sources confirmed the set-up employs fans blowing a mist of water in a shaded area to cool workers while they take a break from strenuous work under the sun.
Here’s how you could make a similar cooling station:
- One gooseneck trailer on which to set all components except the generator
- One industrial fan
- One water spray system and tank
- One canopy, tent topper, or similar “roof” structure to provide shade
- Some cones and caution tape
- One picnic table (or two, if your trailer’s big enough)
- One large cooler of Gatorade or other electrolyte-rich drinks
- One generator set up near the trailer to operate the fan and water spray system
Place the picnic table and cooler under the canopy, atop the trailer, to provide shade and cold drinks for workers who need a break from hot work. If you don’t wish to build guardrails, place the cones and caution tape along the perimeter of the trailer deck to prevent workers from absent-mindedly stepping backward or falling off the edge. Set up the water spray system in front of the industrial fan with the fan directing a fine mist over this lounge area.
Be sure a member of the crew is assigned to double-check the water level in the tank, fuel in the generator, ice and drinks in the cooler, and any other amenities your company can provide for worker health and comfort. Park this trailer in an area that’s convenient to the crew as paving moves along the project. Due to the mobile nature of mainline paving, you may need to have the generator and water tank on wheels as well to accompany a portable cooling trailer to an updated location midday.
T.J. Young of T2ASCO LLC suggested using a swamp cooler—such as a Uline or Grainger that might only set you back $750 or so—with the water tank. He also had the clever idea of hiring a high school or college student for the summer months to drive a refreshment truck to each of the crews each day. For a company with crews in one geographic area, it could be feasible to have the “ice cream truck” pull up to the site with cool water, cooling slushy pops, sports drinks, and so on, giving workers a break from hot work under a fold-out awning on the truck.
An alternate type of cooling station, one that can’t be easily moved, is described and pictured on the famous “yellow poster” available from OSHA. The poster is now titled “Prevent Heat Illness at Work” and depicts multiple heat-illness awareness and prevention ideas; it’s been revamped and re-released as of 2021 and is available to companies, along with many other materials including fact sheets and pamphlets and so on, at the OSHA website. Click this link to access them all: https://www.osha.gov/publications/bytopic/heat-illness-prevention.
Remember to lock everything up at night so the generator and other amenities don’t grow legs. Even with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and robust tracking systems offered by fleet management software today, it’s a nuisance to round up missing equipment if thieves consider your heat-illness-prevention measures an easy target.
Cool Them Down
Not every project will warrant the use of a robust portable cooling station like the one Austin Bridge & Road devised. Sometimes, simple first aid measures will prevent tragedy. John Ball, proprietor of Top Quality Paving & Training, Manchester, New Hampshire, worked with a company in the recent past when one of the laborers began exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion. He noticed the young man’s movements changed.
“He was wearing tamp shoes and using the maul, performing a lot of handwork on that job,” Ball said. “We noticed all of a sudden, he started wandering, almost stumbling over his feet. You knew right away something was wrong. He was shaking his head like he was exhausted.”
The article “7 Safety Tips to Protect Construction Workers from Extreme Heat” at TheAsphaltPro.com, from Western Specialty Contractors, shares some measures the company takes to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Ball said it was surprising to see this person experiencing symptoms of heat illness. “He was a young guy, healthy. It goes to show, you don’t have to be in poor shape for the heat to get you. The heat just took him over.”
He described the conditions that other crews can watch out for. “It was a hot, humid day. That sidewalk paver has the fume extraction exhaust on the right-hand side, and he was working along the right joint under a sloped carport, doing extensive handwork and using the maul.”
Ball then described how the team worked together to assist their crewmember in distress. “We got him out in the grass in the shade and gave him regular water, not ice water. We wiped his face down with wet rags and used the leaf blower near him, in idle, to blow not directly on him, but circulating air against him to help the sweat evaporate from his skin before putting him in the truck. If we’d put him in the air conditioning straight away, he would have gone into shock.
“After about 15 minutes, when we made sure he was coherent and answering questions, we put him in the truck with the air on to recover completely. If he didn’t improve, we were taking him to the hospital.”
It’s apparent the asphalt industry hasn’t been sitting around waiting for government entities to come up with standards for protecting workers from high-heat days. Now that OSHA has an NEP to guide the agency in launching workplace inspections, it behooves companies to increase heat-illness prevention measures. Take to heart the instructions experts have offered over the years to provide employees with access to water, rest, shade, and proper training on the signs of heat-related illness. Also work toward bringing new workers—and those coming back from winter season layoffs—up to speed before the extreme heat of summer is upon us.
For more resources, use the search term “heat related illness” on www.TheAsphaltPro.com and check out OSHA’s “Working in Outdoor and Indoor Heat Environments” page at https://www.osha.gov/heat-exposure.
Heads-up During High Heat
As part of the National Emphasis Program (NEP), OSHA will proactively initiate inspections in over 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for a local area. On days when the heat index—not the temperature—is 80° F or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will engage in proactive outreach and technical assistance to help stakeholders keep workers safe on the job. Check out www.weather.gov/safety/heat-ww for weather information and download the NIOSH heat app for updates and heat index warnings at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/heatapp.html.
Inspectors will look for and address heat hazards during inspections, regardless of whether the industry is targeted in the NEP.
“Our goal is to make it safe for workers in hot indoor and outdoor environments, so that they can return home safe and healthy at the end of each day,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “Working together, we can ensure workers know their rights and employers meet their obligations in order to protect workers from the growing dangers of extreme heat.”
StaCool with a Vest
We shared last summer that StaCool Industries Inc., Lecanto, Florida, had launched its new website. Now the company, which has been manufacturing body core cooling technology since 1997, has a new announcement regarding its micro-thin, highly breathable materials. The company states its StaCool Vest™ Core Body Cooling System, which includes ThermoPaks in the front and back of the vest, are designed to be worn over or under normal clothing.
A spare set of ThermoPaks is included with each vest to extend cooling time and comfort when the initial set thaws. All StaCool vests can be made in fire retardant material and StaCool Industries Founder Sylvia Allen shared with AsphaltPro that the industrial vests are available in ANSI-approved safety orange and yellow colors. “We can make them in a wide range of colors; these are special order items and will take a little time.”
For more information, contact info@StaCoolVest.com or call (866) 782-2665.