The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is well-known as an advocate for the American workforce. Already this year, the agency has announced specific initiatives relating to COVID-19 and workplace safety. So, it wasn’t a surprise that OSHA supported the Biden administration’s effort to protect workers from extreme heat, indoors and out.
Unfortunately, the dangers of exposure to ambient temperatures are severe. There were 43 deaths and over 2,410 serious injuries caused by extreme heat in 2019. However, these numbers might be significantly higher due to the lack of reporting and gray areas related to documenting incidents for immigrants.
The issue of extreme heat as it relates to workplace safety has become an increasingly critical issue. The two agencies hope that enhanced guidelines will protect workers better and save lives.
Protecting Workers: OSHA’s New Initiatives
OSHA has established itself as the “surprise visit” agency, per se. As it states in its Fact Sheet, OSHA conducts inspections without advance notice. These types of random on-site inspections will only increase as the agency tightens up on its check-up schedule.
Also included in the Fact Sheet and on its Worker’s page, OSHA outlines workers’ rights, such as:
- Working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.
- Receive information and training (in a language and vocabulary the worker understands) about workplace hazards, methods to prevent them, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace.
- Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
- File a complaint asking OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA’s rules. OSHA will keep all identities confidential.
- Exercise their rights under the law without retaliation, including reporting an injury or raising health and safety concerns with their employer or OSHA. If a worker has been retaliated against for using their rights, they must file a complaint with OSHA as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days.
Additionally, OSHA is increasing its efforts to properly educate and empower employees, funneling the US workforce toward regular mandatory training.
Specific guidelines will help ensure employees get breaks when needed, shade, as well as water breaks when the temperature hits a particular degree. Companies will need someone to track the weather and hold managers/site supervisors accountable for ensuring the heat-related precautions are used.
These new procedures and subsequent training aren’t too far off from how companies routinely train employees on sexual harassment in the workplace. Companies must show the same due diligence regarding heat-related training and guidelines. As expected, the emphasis from an employer’s perspective will be avoidance and mitigation, where the insurance industry steps up to the plate.
How OSHA’s New Initiatives Impact Insurance
A few coverages come to mind when discussing heat-related risks and injuries on the insurance side of things. First, Workers’ Compensation (WC) and Employer’s Liability Insurance — typically included within a WC policy— covers medical expenses and loss of wages due to injuries arising during employment. Employer’s Liability, more specifically, will help pay the legal costs associated with negligence lawsuits over work-related injuries.
Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) includes coverage for defense costs and damages related to various employment-related claims. This coverage comes into play when discussing discrimination and the immigrant population being disproportionately affected.
Directors & Officers (D&O) Insurance could be relevant here if shareholders sue the company for wrongful acts, as well as regulatory consequences for not following guidelines. Since OSHA is a regulatory entity, there are potential regulatory fines and actions for not maintaining the standard.
Third-Party Over action in a General Liability Insurance policy might respond in these suits, as well. Third-Party Over action occurs when an injured employee collects workers’ compensation benefits from the employer and sues a third party for causing or contributing to the employee’s injury. This situation would apply to companies that hire out work (i.e., independent contractors, etc.) and run the risk of non-employees suing.
The Take-Home Message
While OSHA’s new heat-related initiatives might seem to open the door for more litigation, the ultimate goal is to protect America’s workforce. However, staying up to date with OSHA’s new policies and procedures might be tricky. We recommend starting an ongoing conversation with an experienced broker so that your company is on the same page as various regulatory agencies.
Understanding the details of what coverage your company needs can be a confusing process. Founder Shield specializes in knowing the risks your industry faces to make sure you have adequate protection. Feel free to reach out to us, and we’ll walk you through the process of finding the right policy for you.