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Facing Long, Hot Summer, OSHA Rule Is Needed to Protect Workers From Heat Stress

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Sunday, June 20 is the first day of summer and much of the American West and Midwest is already suffering under a blistering heatwave.

Against that backdrop, it is imperative that the Biden administration move immediately to protect workers from the dangers of excessive heat exposure, as advocates have long urged.

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. A Public Citizen petition to OSHA, 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, remains pending at the agency.

Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S., killing more people annually than hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined. 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. Heat stress is also quite costly: every year, U.S. employers spend $220 billion on injuries and illnesses related to excessive heat.

As climate change raises global temperatures, the heat stress crisis is only getting worse making the need for a national standard only more urgent. Twenty of the last 21 years were the hottest on record. By the middle of the century the average number of days per year with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit will more than double in the U.S. and the number of days per year above 105 degrees will quadruple. By the end of the century, we can expect that nearly the entire southeastern U.S., from Virginia to the southern tip of Texas, will experience on average more than 85 “deadly heat” days per year – days when the combined heat and humidity overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate temperature, even when at rest.

A new Public Citizen memo lays out: why heat stress is so dangerous to workers, the remedies to heat stress, and why heat stress in the workplace is a racial justice issue.

Read Public Citizen’s full reporters’ memo here.