|Action||NOIRA on Heat Illness Prevention|
|Comment Period||Ends 6/9/2021|
Support Heat Illness Prevention Standard, 16VAC25-210
Comments of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber,
Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers
International Union, AFL-CIO (USW)
Notice of Intended Regulatory Action (NOIRA) for the
Heat Illness Prevention Standard, 16VAC25-210
June 9, 2021
These comments are submitted on behalf of the members of the USW. We commend and we thank the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (VDLI) and Safety and Health Codes Board for taking the first step to issue a standard to protect workers from heat illness as well as the opportunity to comment on the Notice of Intended Regulatory Action (NOIRA).
Heat Stress Protections are Essential to Protect Working People in Virginia
Neither Federal OSHA or the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) Program have a comprehensive standard protecting workers against heat stress. This puts Virginia’s workers at risk of reduced productivity, but more importantly, injuries, disease, or worse yet, death when exposed to heat stress hazards with both outdoor and indoor work.
The USW has experienced fatalities involving heat-related exposures. USW members’ exposures occur in some of the following industries: Atomic, Chemical, Energy and Utilities, Glass, Manufacturing, Metals (Steel, Aluminum, etc.), Oil and Petroleum, Paper and Forestry, Plastics, Pottery, Rubber and Tires. Our members have experienced heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat syncope (fainting and dizziness), heat rash and rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown). Some cases have even required oral and intravenous (IV) fluid therapy. One member’s mental status was altered and the employer mistakenly interpreted this as impairment from a controlled substance, but a trained in-plant emergency responder recognized the symptoms and helped our member get the urgent care needed.
Virginia Cannot Wait on Federal OSHA
The VDLI and VOSH Program cannot wait for OSHA or Congress to take possible future actions in protecting workers against heat stress. Virginia took the correct steps in not waiting for Federal OSHA to act against COVID-19 and enacted the country’s first COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard and later a permanent standard. The actions of VDLI and VOSH says volumes of how Virginia can go beyond OSHA to protect Virginia’s workers. Additionally, the Safety and Health Codes Board unanimously voted to push the current NOIRA forward, showing they know the importance of these standards.
The Safety and Health Codes Board Must Consider all Options to the Maximum Extent to Protect Workers
The Safety and Health Codes Board should consider the following:
- A written Heat Illness Prevention Program with a designated person to oversee the Heat Illness Prevention Program that includes employees and their representatives’ participation.
- Identify hazards and the controls needed to eliminate and reduce exposures.
- Engineering Controls: Air-conditioning, increased ventilation, fans in accordance with sound industrial hygiene principles, providing heat-absorbing shielding or barriers, heat reflective shields to redirect radiant heat, insulating hot surfaces, and eliminate/reduce steam leaks, wet floors, or humidity.
- Provide adequate amounts of cool, potable water and electrolytes near the work area and encourage workers to drink frequently
- Provide paid breaks
- Provide shade.
- Institute a heat acclimatization plan for workers.
- Implement a heat alert program whenever the weather service forecasts that a heat wave is likely to occur.
- Limit time in the heat and/or increase recovery time spent in a cool environment.
- Modified work demands.
- Increase the number of workers per task.
- Provide and use special tools (i.e., tools intended to minimize manual strain).
- Training and procedures for supervisors and workers about heat stress.
- Monitoring of signs and symptoms.
- Emergency planning and response.
- Provide and maintain heat-protective clothing and equipment at no cost to employees. Include training and procedures on the added heat load caused by exertion, clothing, and the personal protective equipment provided.
In conclusion, VDLI and the VOSH Program must protect all workers from the hazards of occupational heat exposure. Applying the hierarchy of controls will prevent reduced productivity, but more importantly, injuries, disease, or worse yet, death for Virginia’s workers. We cannot continue to rely on voluntary compliance. We strongly encourage Virginia to move forward with a comprehensive standard to make all workers safer.
Director of Health, Safety and Environment