WASHINGTON, D.C. – To protect workers from heat-related illness and death amid record-breaking summer heat, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to address workplace heat, Public Citizen and more than 110 other organizations and individuals said today in a petition to the agency.
Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S., killing more people annually than hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined. As climate change makes heatwaves longer, hotter and more frequent, the heat stress crisis is only getting worse making the need for a national standard only more urgent.
“Oregon and Washington had to scramble to issue emergency heat standards because OSHA has failed to do so,” said Juley Fulcher, Public Citizen’s worker health and safety advocate. “As record-breaking temperatures are hitting every corner of the country, the Biden administration must put a national heat standard in place now.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 1992 through 2019, exposure to excessive environmental heat killed 907 U.S. workers and seriously injured 79,584. But new research shows that the problem is far worse. As many as 170,000 heat-related injuries are happening at U.S. workplaces every year — injuries like falling from heights and accidents from machinery.
“Farmworkers labor long hours in high heat that can be deadly, and climate change is intensifying high temperatures,” said Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice. “Too many agricultural employers choose not to adopt reasonable safety measures against preventable illnesses and deaths. The federal agency responsible for reducing job fatalities and illnesses must respond by adopting an emergency safety standard on heat stress.”
Public Citizen filed similar petitions in 2011 and 2018 to OSHA, also co-submitted by 130+ other labor, health and climate organizations, heat stress experts and former OSHA directors, calling on the agency to issue a rule protecting workers from heat stress. On June 11, the Biden administration listed a potential occupational heat stress protection rule in its biannual regulatory agenda. The move comes after years of advocacy and pressure by workers, scientists, and community organizers and it represents a first step to implementing workplace standards around heat stress.
“Outdoor workers are on the front lines of climate change and it’s long past time that workplace heat standards catch up to our current climate,” said Shana Idvardy, a climate resilience analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “We urge OSHA to move immediately to embrace the extensive science and the extraordinary need to protect workers from dangerous heat conditions by expeditiously implementing an emergency heat standard. The multiple extreme heatwaves the nation has experienced demonstrate that the climate crisis is exacerbating the frequency of dangerously hot days. While reducing heat-trapping emissions is vital to stem worsening impacts in the future, by issuing an emergency heat standard OSHA can help protect workers nationwide from unhealthy and potentially deadly conditions here and now.”
Signers of the 2021 petition include Farmworker Justice, Service Employees International Union, Oxfam America, United Farm Workers, Union of Concerned Scientists and former chief of CalOSHA Ellen Widess.
The petition is available here.