As part of a national campaign for worker heat protections by Public Citizen, United Farm Workers Foundation and Farmworker Justice, more than 130 organizations and nearly 100 individuals have petitioned the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to issue national protections for all outdoor and indoor workers endangered by extreme heat. Already, heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S. As the effects of climate change continue to intensify and as temperatures rise, the chance of experiencing heat exhaustion on the job is increasing and warrants robust worker protections.
Currently, there are no federally mandated worker protections for excessive heat exposure, which can cause heat stroke, exacerbate existing health problems, and even result in death if left untreated. We are petitioning OSHA to ensure that employers provide their workers with access to water, rest breaks, and shade, among other safety measures, and implement anti-retaliation protections for workers who request such protections. These basic workplace rights may seem like common sense, but most employers will not voluntarily implement such protections.
California, Washington, and Minnesota are the only states that currently have worker heat stress protections. In the absence of a federal heat stress standard, OSHA is only able to police excessive heat by enforcing a general requirement that employers provide safe workplaces. Unfortunately its enforcement is grossly inadequate. In the most recent five-year period (2013 through 2017), California’s OSHA (Cal/OSHA) conducted 50 times more inspections resulting in a citation or violation for unsafe heat exposure practices than OSHA did nationwide during that same period.
In most of the U.S., workers are laboring in extreme heat, often with no protections from heat stress, in a wide range of indoor and outdoor workplaces, including farms, construction sites, steel mills, warehouses, vehicles, telecommunications worksites and manufacturing and meat-packing plants. As climate changed induced heat waves are on the rise and will only get worse in the future, these workers are vulnerable to an increased rate of heat stress related injuries and deaths. Heat is also expected to impact production. NOAA has projected that we will lose up to 50 percent of summer labor capacity by 2100 if we don’t reverse course on carbon pollution emissions. It is critical that OSHA implements a heat stress standard before climate change places more workers in danger and jobs at risk.
The coalition petitioning OSHA for a heat standard is a united group of labor, public health, environmental, environmental justice and academic organizations. The campaign will engage in public education to raise awareness of the growing impacts of climate change on heat stress for workers and vulnerable populations, while conducting advocacy to advance worker protections.
In order to amplify our efforts, please join us in petitioning OSHA to enact these standards nationwide. Take action now!
Learn more about the campaign and how to get involved here.