100+ Groups Endorse Workplace Heat Protection Bill

Coalition support letter for the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act (H.R. 3668)

HR 3668 Support letter (PDF)

The Honorable Judy Chu
U.S. House of Representatives
2423 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Raul Grijalva
U.S. House of Representatives
1511 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative Chu and Representative Grijalva:

We, the undersigned organizations, write to express our support for introduction of the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act (H.R. 3668), legislation that directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a standard on the prevention of excessive heat in the workplace for outdoor and indoor workers. We are part of a nationwide network that is raising awareness around the dangers of the climate crisis on workers, by advocating for occupational heat protections. We appreciate your leadership on this bill, in partnership with House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott.

Heat is the leading weather-related killer, and it is becoming more dangerous as 18 of the last 19 years were the hottest on record.[i] Excessive heat can cause heat stroke and even death if not treated properly. It also exacerbates existing health problems like asthma, kidney failure, and heart disease. Workers in agriculture and construction are at highest risk, but the problem affects all workers exposed to heat, including indoor workers without climate-controlled environments. This threat is projected to intensify with global heating, yet, the U.S. does not have a federal heat stress standard for workers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued criteria for a heat standard in 1972, updating it in 1986 and 2016. Last summer, more than 130 organizations and former OSHA administrators petitioned OSHA for a heat stress standard that builds upon the NIOSH criteria.[ii] At the time of this bill’s introduction, OSHA has yet to issue a formal response to the petition. Meanwhile, California, Washington, Minnesota and the U.S. military have issued heat protections. Absent a federal standard, OSHA currently polices heat-related injuries and deaths only by enforcing its “catch all” general duty clause that requires employers to provide safe workplaces. Enforcement is scarce and, by definition, reactive rather than preventive. Notably, from 2013 through 2017, California used its heat standard to conduct 50 times more inspections resulting in a heat-related violation than OSHA did nationwide under the general duty clause.[iii]

Protecting workers from heat also has economic benefits. In high heat, people work less effectively due to “diminished ability for physical exertion and for completing mental tasks,” which reduces productivity, increases the risk of accidents, and drives up medical expenses.[iv] The costs of lower labor productivity under rising temperatures is estimated to reach up to $160 billion in lost wages per year in the U.S. by 2090 according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment.[v] These impacts can be mitigated by heat protections. For instance, in 2011 a central Texas municipality implemented a heat illness prevention program for outdoor municipal workers that not only resulted in a significant decrease in heat-related illnesses, but a decrease in worker’s compensation costs by 50% per heat-related illness.[vi]

The Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act is named after a farmworker who died of a heat stroke in 2004, after picking grapes for 10 hours straight in 105-degree temperatures. Unfortunately, Mr. Valdivia’s story is not unique, and yet heat-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses are completely preventable. This bill will direct OSHA to develop a heat stress standard for indoor and outdoor workers to prevent further heat-related tragedies. Specifically, it will require employers to develop a heat-illness prevention plan that includes the following commonsense requirements:

  • Develop and implement the standard with meaningful participation of covered employees, and their representatives when applicable, and tailor it to the specific hazards of the workplace;
  • Ensure it is written in a language understood by the majority of the employees;
  • Require that workers who are exposed to high heat have paid breaks in cool environments, access to water for hydration, and include limitations on how long workers can be in extreme heat areas;
  • Create emergency response procedures for employees suffering from heat illness;
  • Provide training for employers and employees on heat stress illness and prevention;
  • Include acclimatization plans to ensure workers can adjust to their working conditions;
  • Ensure engineering and administrative controls are used to limit heat exposure, i.e. ventilation and/or protective clothing;
  • Require employers to maintain records on heat-related illnesses and deaths, and other heat data; and
  • Prohibit retaliation against a covered employee for reporting violations of this standard or exercising any other rights under this bill.

We look forward to working with your offices and the Committee to advance this vital health and safety measure to protect workers from extreme heat and the climate crisis.

Sincerely,

AFL-CIO
Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Inc.
Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments
American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
American Public Health Association
Amigas Unidas
Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization
Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs
Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics
Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers
Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT)
CATA – El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Progressive Reform
Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.
Change to Win
Child Labor Coalition
Chispa
Collaborative Center for Justice
Columbia Legal Services
Communications Workers of America
Community, Faith & Labor Coalition
Concentra
Concerned Health Professionals of New York
CR Research/Consulting
CREA
CRLA Foundation
Earth Action, Inc.
Earth Ethics, Inc.
Earthjustice
Earthworks
Empire State Consumer Project, Inc.
Equitable Health Solutions
Fair Farms
Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project (FLAP)
Farmworker Association of Florida
Farmworker Justice
Fe y Justicia Worker Center
Food & Water Watch
Food Empowerment Project
Government Accountability Project
Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition
Greenpeace
Hesperian Health Guides
Hip Hop Caucus
Interfaith Power & Light
Interfaith Worker Justice
Interfaith Worker Justice San Diego
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC)
International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA)
International Union, UAW
IUE-CWA
Justice in Motion
Labor Network for Sustainability
Labor of Love Safety Training
Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America
League of Conservation Voters
Lideres Campesinas
Maine Labor Group on Health
MassCOSH (Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health)
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Migrant Clinicians Network
Migrant Legal Action Program
Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights
Multicultural Efforts to end Sexual Assault (MESA)
National Child Labor Committee
National Consumers League
National Council for Occupational Safety and Health
National Employment Law Project
National Farm Worker Ministry
National Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare
Natural Resources Defense Council
New Sanctuary Movement of Atlanta (NSMA)
New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy
NJ Work Environment Council
North Carolina Council of Churches
Northwest Forest Worker Center
Northwest Workers’ Justice Project
Oregon Environmental Council
Oxfam
Philaposh
Physicians for Social Responsibility, Arizona Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility, Colorado Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility, Florida Chapter Corp
Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oregon Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility, Pennsylvania Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility, Tennessee Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington Chapter
Progressive Democrats of America
Progressive Democrats of America, Arizona Chapter
Progressive Democrats of America, Tucson Chapter
Public Citizen
Public Justice Center
Responsible Sourcing Network
RI Committee on Occupational Safety and Health
SafeWork Washington
School of Public Health, The University of Illinois at Chicago
Service Employees International Union
Sierra Club
South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice
Southern California COSH
Student Action with Farmworkers
Union of Concerned Scientists
UNITE HERE!
United Farm Workers
United Farm Workers Foundation (UFWF)
United Food & Commercial Workers International Union
Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action
WeCount!
Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health
Worker Justice Center of New York
Workers Defense Project
Workers’ Center of Central NY
Worksafe

Cc: Members of the House Education and Labor Committee

[i]Severe Weather Awareness – Heat Waves, National Weather Service (viewed on Jul. 8, 2019), https://bit.ly/2CQ3X6u; It’s Time to Protect Millions of Workers from Extreme Heat, CitizenVox (viewed on Jul. 8, 2019), https://bit.ly/2uPafwL; John Schwartz and Nadja Popovich, It’s Official: 2018 was the Fourth-Warmest Year on Record, The New York Times (Feb. 6, 2019), https://nyti.ms/2HX8s2t.

[ii] Petition from Public Citizen et. al. to Loren Sweatt, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, U.S. Department of Labor (Jul. 17, 2018), https://bit.ly/2wjJSzy. Press Release, Public Citizen, As Climate Heats Up, Government Must Protect Workers From Heat (Jul. 17, 2018) https://bit.ly/2LlHIoD.

[iii] CA has over 14 years of experience with a heat standard, confirming the practicality and effectiveness of such a standard. Its standard resulted in greater compliance by more employers and prevention of heat illness and death among workers in CA. Petition from Public Citizen et. al. to Loren Sweatt, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, U.S. Department of Labor 17 (Jul. 17, 2018) https://bit.ly/2wjJSzy.

[iv] Climate Change and Labor: Impacts on Health in the Workplace, United Nations Development Programme (viewed on Oct. 15, 2018), https://bit.ly/2dGd79p; Sidney Shapiro & Katherine Tracy, Public Law and Climate Disasters Occupational Health and Safety Law (Rosemary Lyster et al. eds., 1st ed., Edward Elgar Pub, 2018), https://amzn.to/2QTBWxJ.

[v] U.S. Global Change Research Program, Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II (Nov. 2018), https://bit.ly/2r3WZ5S.

[vi] Ronda B. McCarthy et. al., 1536 Occupational Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers Before and After Implementation of a Heat Stress Awareness Program, 75 BMJ Journals Occupational and Environmental Medicines (2018) https://bit.ly/32j3XFA.