OSHA Must Act Before the Scorching Summer Heat Arrives
By Juley Fulcher
As you pull your coat a little tighter you might not be thinking about it, but in a few short months we will be in the midst of another summer with blazing hot temperatures. Experts are saying that 2023 will be even hotter than 2022, a familiar refrain over the past two decades of rapid climate change. The forecast includes blistering heat waves that can be lethal to workers.
Each year in the United states as many as 600 or more workers die from heat-related illnesses and accidents. While the hazard exists year-round for workers toiling in hot factories and commercial kitchens, the danger explodes for both indoor and outdoor workers when temperatures soar. Without protection, workers are susceptible to everything from heat strokes and heart attacks to workplace injuries and chronic kidney disease. No one should have to face this threat for a paycheck.
Every heat-related illness, injury and fatality is avoidable. With access to clean water and breaks in a cool location, workers can get the reprieve they need to cool down. The opportunity to gradually acclimate to the working conditions allows workers to build up a tolerance for laboring in the heat — a critical process to combat the high rates of heat-related fatalities in the first few days of work. An employer can prevent the harmful consequences of heat stress by training all workers and managers on the signs and symptoms of heat-illness and having clear procedures in place to provide aid to workers in crisis.
Despite the existence of simple protocols that can save lives, and 50 years of calls from experts and advocates, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t have a heat standard for employers to follow. Under the Biden administration, OSHA has finally begun working on developing a heat standard. Unfortunately the process requires OSHA to navigate many procedural hurdles that can be easily derailed by knee-jerk reactions and myopic corporate resistance. In fact, it takes an average of seven to eight years to create an OSHA standard.
Workers can’t afford to wait.
A handful of states are knitting together a patchwork of uneven solutions to protect their workers in the absence of a federal standard. It’s an inadequate solution for a nationwide problem.
This is why seven state Attorneys General from across the country have petitioned OSHA for an emergency heat standard to protect workers. Led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, and joined by the Attorneys General of California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, the petition conveys the urgent need for immediate action.
Scorching temperatures will soon be upon us. OSHA must act now to protect workers.