OSHA expands protections for workers in hot temperatures

By Riley SimpsonSeptember 22, 2021

To protect workers who work both indoors and outdoors from heat-related illnesses and hazards, President Joe Biden announced the the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is expanding measures to reduce dangers found in hot environments.

According to the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure, even though heat illness is commonly under-reported, and 43 workers died from heat illness in 2019, with at least 2,410 other suffering serious injuries or illinesses.

The National Weather Service recently confirmed that extreme heat is now the leading weather-related killer in America – ahead of super-storms, wildfires and floods.

In addition to physical harm and death, extreme heat has economic effects, too.

The White House stated that increasing heat precipitated by climate change can cause lost productivity and work hours resulting in large wage losses for workers, and the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center estimated the economic loss from heat to be at least $100 billion annually – a number that could double by 2030 and quintuple by 2050 under a higher emissions scenario.

“My administration will not leave Americans to face this threat alone,” Biden said of extreme heat. “The Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies will work together to help ensure that the American people have safe and healthy working conditions, provide cooling assistance to homes and neighborhoods and coordinate with state and local officials to bolster their resilience and address the impacts of this threat.”

The move is part of the Biden administration’s commitment to workplace safety, climate resilience and environmental justice.

According to OSHA, the department is developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections and launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard.

The agency is also forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to provide better understanding of challenges and to identify and share best practices to protect workers.

“Throughout the nation, millions of workers face serious hazards from high temperatures both outdoors and indoors,” said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “Amid changing climate, the growing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events is increasing the dangers workers face, especially for workers of color who disproportionately work in essential jobs in tough conditions. As Secretary of Labor, my priority is to make sure we are taking appropriate action to keep workers healthy and safe on the job.”

The newly established OSHA initiative, which applies to worksites in construction, agriculture and general industry, prioritizes heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

OSHA ssaid it encourages employers to implement intervention methods on heat priority days proactively, including regularly taking breaks for water, rest, shade, training workers on how to identify common symptoms and what to do when a worker suspects a heat-related illness is occurring, and taking periodic measurements to determine workers’ heat exposure.

For more information on which standards OSHA Area Directors will be instituting, visit the OSHA website.

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