MD Bill Aimed at Protecting Workers from Heat Stress

Source: Mehdi Aligol/123RF

Maryland House Bill 722 has been enacted into law, requiring the Maryland Commissioner of Labor and Industry, in consultation with the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board, to develop and adopt, by October 2022, regulations that require employers to protect employees from heat-related illness caused by heat stress.

According to the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), heat stress is a significant problem that can result in occupational illnesses and injuries, and in some cases death.

Heat-related fatality cases show that workplaces with temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit may have a heat hazard present when work activities are at or above a moderate workload. Assessing worker exposure in conditions that may present a heat hazard is critical for knowing when to implement a heat-related illness prevention program.

According to OSHA, although heat hazards are common in indoor and outdoor work environments, heat-related illness and fatalities are preventable.

Many risk factors contribute to the risk of heat-related illness. A heat-related illness occurs when there is an increase in the worker’s core body temperature above healthy levels. As core temperature rises, the body is less able to perform normal functions.

As core temperature continues to increase, the body releases inflammatory agents associated with damage to the liver and muscles. This process may become self-sustaining and generate a run-away inflammatory response, the “systemic inflammatory response” syndrome that often leads to death.

The most effective way to prevent heat-related illness and fatality is to reduce heat stress in the workplace (e.g., increase air movement, reduce temperature, reduce humidity, and protect workers from solar radiation or other radiant heat sources).

The following are some engineering controls that may reduce heat stress:

  • Use air conditioning;
  • Increase general ventilation;
  • Provide cooling fans;
  • Run local exhaust ventilation where heat is produced (e.g., laundry vents);
  • Use reflective shields to block radiant heat;
  • Insulate hot surfaces (e.g., furnace walls);
  • Stop leaking steam; and
  • Provide shade for outdoor worksites.

According to AIHA President, Kathy Murphy, “Other states may be inspired by Maryland’s leadership to introduce and enact similar bills of their own.”