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With Another Heat Wave Coming, Workers Call for OSHA Heat Standard

10 Jul, 2023 Liz Carey

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Washington, D.C. (WorkersCompensation.Com) – As two separate heat waves threaten both U.S. coasts this week, workers are continuing their call for OSHA to come up with a national heat standard.

Forecasters are calling for another long, intense heat wave to cover parts of Arizona, New Mexico and California on one side of the country, while another front will cause record-setting temperatures in South Florida.

According to the National Weather Service, parts of the Southwest are looking at dangerously hot conditions through Sunday, July 16. Arizona is expected to see temperatures rise to between 105 to 114 through Wednesday, July 12, and then increase to between 110 and 118 through Sunday.

In Miami, temperatures hit record highs and are expected to get even higher. A heat advisory has been issued for the area with temperatures expected to soar to 105 degrees. Additionally, a blanket of Saharan dust is headed to the area which will not only limit cooling rain but keep in some of the heat and humidity, forecasters said.

The increased heat can lead to dangerous working conditions for those who work outside. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to extreme heat can cause illness and injury like heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rashes. Additionally, experts said, heat cause workers to have sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses and dizziness which can increase the risk of injury.

In a recent report, Public Citizen found that workplace heat exposure and stress is linked to as many as 2,000 worker death each year, and as many as 170,000 injuries. Workplace injuries, the report said, rise by 1 percent for every 1 degree Celsius in temperature.

The report also found that heat stress-related illnesses, injuries and fatalities “disproportionately strike” low-income workers and workers of color. Latino workers, the report said, were three times as likely to suffer heat-related deaths than non-Latino workers; and Agricultural workers experience heat stress-related deaths at a rate 35 times higher than the rest of the workforce.

Public Citizen is calling on OSHA to develop a national heat standard that would protect outdoor workers, as well as indoor workers, from the heat.

In 2021, OSHA published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, but so far not final rulemaking has been released. However, the agency did introduce a National Emphasis Program on heat-related inspections that is set to stay in effect until April 2025 which calls for inspections at more than 70 “high-risk” industries when the heat index reached 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Juley Fulcher, a worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen, said it could be years before OSHA has finalized the rule-making process. On top of that, changes in the federal government could upend any progress made before the rulemaking is finished.

But the advocacy group said workers need help now.

“It’s these same folks who were out there during COVID, while we were all huddled in our apartments — these are often the same folks that are dealing with excessive heat,” Fulcher told NPR’s MarketWatch. “Agriculture workers have the highest rate of death from heat. Construction workers overall have the highest number of people who die every year of heat.” 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of work-related deaths due to environmental exposure to heat has fallen in recent years. Since 2011, more than 430 workers have died due to heat-exposure.

In 2011, 61 heat-related deaths were recorded. Heat-related deaths hit a low in 2014 with only 18, but most years saw between 30 and 38 deaths. There were 49 heat-related deaths in 2018; 43 in 2019; 56 in 2020 and 36 in 2021.

Between 1992 and 2019, an estimated 700,000 workers were injured due to heat-exposure, according to the BLS.

In 2021, legislation was introduced that would force OSHA to create a heat standard. The Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2021 would direct OSHA to come up with a standard that would require employers to implement measures to protect workers from heat stress and related illnesses and injuries.

On July 20, 2022, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) announced his desire to see the legislation passed, but the legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Education in November, but did not pass out of committee.

In June of this year, U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) introduced legislation that would “direct the Secretary of Labor to conduct a study on the effectiveness of spending by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to provide technical assistance and compliance assistance in relation to heat-related illness.” That legislation has not passed beyond the introduction phase.

“No worker should have to endure life-threatening heat to provide for their family. This would be an important step to protect Ohio workers on the job,” Brown said last year. “We know too many workers still work in dangerous conditions, putting their health and safety on the line every day to provide for their families. There’s not much dignity in a job where you fear for your health or your life.”

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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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